The UK live music and night-time sectors have welcomed the confirmation by British ministers yesterday that most remaining COVID restrictions currently in force in England will lift from next Monday, as the country moves into step four of the government’s COVID roadmap. For the live sector that means that all clubs and venues can reopen, and that full capacity shows can return. After nearly eighteen months in virtual shutdown, it’s a major step forward for the UK music and clubbing communities.
However, challenges remain. Many medical experts have criticised the decision to lift so many COVID rules at once given that there is another surge in coronavirus cases underway. As well as venues and clubs being able to properly reopen, rules around mask wearing, social distancing and home working also change next week, with most of those things become advisory rather than mandatory. Some fear that, despite the success of the vaccination roll out, that will result in an escalation of the current surge in COVID cases causing a new surge in hospitalisations.
Although optimists hope that the rule changes next week are the beginning of the end of the pandemic and the accompanying shutdown of live entertainment, some pessimists think that there could be further challenges ahead that might require the return of some restrictions. With that in mind, for the live industry, the fact that cancellation insurance is still not available remains a major problem, and calls for state-backed insurance continue to be made.
Meanwhile, rules that will remain in place, until mid-August at least, around self-isolation for people who come in contact with those with the virus, and quarantine requirements for those coming into the UK from certain countries, will be problematic for the live sector in the short term.
The former might mean that the whole cast or crew of a production will need to self-isolate all at once at very short notice. The latter will prevent some international artists from playing in the UK. So with that in mind, the live sector is also looking for more flexibility on both those points, with super frequent COVID testing the proposed alternative.
One new rule that could have been introduced yesterday – mandating venues and clubs to check people’s COVID status on admission via the NHS app – will not go into force next week, with such a measure being on the ‘recommendations list’ rather the the ‘remaining rules list’.
Talking through that lengthy recommendations list yesterday, UK Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson said: “We cannot simply revert instantly from [next] Monday to life as it was before COVID. We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport”.
“We’re removing the government instruction to work from home where you can”, he went on, “but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desks as one from Monday. And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer”.
“And as a matter of social responsibility”, he added, “we’re urging nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS COVID Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry”.
Welcoming the confirmation that venues can properly reopen next week – while also setting out remaining concerns and priorities – here are lots of reps for the live music and night-time sectors…
Greg Parmley, CEO of LIVE: “Today is a fantastic day for live music – our members cannot wait to get back out there and put on the events safely that our fans have been missing this past year. While we have been waiting for this moment for the past year, commercial insurance is still not available – meaning organisers are faced with the prospect of huge financial losses should any restrictions need to change. If government really wants us to get back our feet, they need to make live events financially viable, provide the insurance scheme they have promised, and give the industry the confidence to invest for the long term”.
Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust: “Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes the decision to permit grassroots music venues in England to open at full capacity from 19 Jul. For the last twelve months, we have been working tirelessly alongside venue operators to identify ways in which they can reopen every venue safely. That work remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but today we want to reach out to live music fans and send them a simple message: It’s finally time to revive live”.
“Please help your local venue in England to provide safe events by thinking about your personal responsibility, the things you can do to ensure that as well as keeping yourself safe you are also doing everything you can to support the safety of others. We have all been desperately seeking the opportunity to revive live music, and to show that we can do that safely. Let’s take this opportunity and demonstrate that we are a community that cares about each other”.
Paul Reed, CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals: “We welcome the Health Secretary’s confirmation of progressing to step four of the lockdown roadmap. Government has repeatedly stated that once we are at this stage, it will examine if insurance is still an issue for events and intervene if necessary. We are now one week away from this date and the sector needs a long overdue resolution to this problem”.
“AIF is also working with the relevant government departments on the publication of guidance to ensure that festivals can reopen safely this summer, and organisers and local authorities alike can have confidence in their decision making and measures introduced – including COVID certification where considered appropriate. Ensuring the safety of audiences and risk mitigation has always been central to what festival organisers do each year and it will continue to be more so than ever as we begin to emerge from the pandemic”.
David Keighley, Chair of the Production Services Association: “It is great news to hear that finally the government has confirmed the easing of restrictions on the 19 Jul. The success of the vaccination roll out has been the key factor in making the move to step four possible. Ironically we see very large increases in COVID cases at this time but if the vaccines mean the number of serious cases and hospitalisations remain relatively low, then it is right to open up our economy. Let’s all hope this remains the case in the coming months. There is still a level of uncertainty and we all need to be cautious throughout the summer and particularly moving into autumn”.
Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association: “The decision to go ahead with reopening on 19 Jul is the correct one. After sixteen months of crippling restrictions, businesses in the night time economy are ready to play our part in the safe reopening of society. Today should mark the beginning of nightlife’s long journey to rebuild itself. There are some important hurdles ahead for our sector, including changes to the isolation rules which have the potential to throw the recovery off course, but for those businesses that have made it this far in the pandemic, I feel confident that the sense of community and togetherness the sector has shown to this point will help us overcome these challenges”.
“We look forward to the government providing more guidance for businesses owners – this should be practical and easy to navigate. But from today’s statement we can say that the government are right not to mandate the use of COVID status certification systems. Much of the night time economy relies on spontaneous consumers, and by permitting businesses to opt out, the government have allowed for this trade to continue. Representing a sector that has shown such resilience in the face of adversity has been humbling for me personally – and I think now we can say, with more confidence than at any point previously during the pandemic, that better days lie ahead”.
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