After more than a week of rehearsals, two semifinals and 53,000 COVID-19 tests for fans, staff and performers, the Eurovision song contest is ready to go live in front fans and a global television audience.
Twenty six nations will compete in the Eurovision final in the Netherlands on Saturday, vying for votes in the world's most popular live music event, which returns after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic.
A limited audience of 3500 will be admitted to a concert venue in the city of Rotterdam to watch the performances after passing stringent testing for COVID-19. Despite the precautions, several infections were reported during rehearsals and the semi-finals.
Favourite Iceland will not be able to perform live during the finals, after a band member tested positive for COVID-19.
The organisation will instead broadcast its back-up performance, which each country can use in an emergency.
Among other countries tipped by bookmakers to take the big prize is Malta, with an up-tempo dance floor track Je me casse, France with singer Barbara Pravi's classic chanson Voila, Italy's glam rock band Maneskin, which will perform Zitti E Buoni and Lithuania's The Roop with the retro-pop song Discoteque.
Due to travel restrictions, most Eurovision fans outside the Netherlands will have to watch from home.
Many are reaching out to friends and online communities to celebrate the event, known for its kitsch pop songs and flamboyant costumes.
"We've really missed it since Tel Aviv so everybody's doubly excited this year that the contest can actually be held at all in any form," Swedish fan Peter Baston, who watched the semi-finals online, told Reuters.
The Netherlands is hosting the 65th edition of the event, which draws a television audience of about 200 million, after Dutch singer-songwriter Duncan Laurence won the 2019 contest in Tel Aviv with the song Arcade. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Laurence's performance this year was cancelled after he tested positive for the virus.
The Eurovision organisation has put out its own app where fans can cast their votes, judge acts and applaud at home for their favourites which will partly determine the sound level of the applause during the live show.
Australian Associated Press