Live industry laments “catastrophic” delay to lifting to COVID-19 restrictions in England


June 15, 2021

As expected and feared in equal measure by the live music industry, last night British Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson announced that the lifting of pandemic restrictions in England will be delayed by a month. It means full capacity shows cannot return next week as has been originally planned.

The lifting of rules on social distancing – or ‘step four’ in the government’s previous plan to relax and remove COVID-19 restrictions – was due to take place on 21 Jun. However, Johnson said yesterday that the new delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a new spike in cases. Therefore, he said, the government needs more time to get more people vaccinated before rules are relaxed.

A small number of the COVID rules currently in force will still be lifted next week – such as limits on the number of people who can attend a wedding. However, recent calls to allow live music events to go ahead at full capacity were not answered. The numbers of people allowed at live events will continue to be limited, while nightclubs will remain closed entirely.

“This delay is catastrophic for the live music industry”, says UK Music CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin. “Not just for the millions of fans who are desperate to get back to gigs and concerts, but for the event organisers, the venues, and the thousands of musicians and support staff whose jobs and livelihoods are now at risk. People across the industry have had 21 Jun circled in their calendar as the date they can finally get back to work after more than a year and make a living again. But that hope has now been crushed and their futures are shrouded in uncertainty at a time when they most need clarity”.

Reiterating stats recently announced by live music trade body LIVE, he said that the month-long delay would result in the postponement or cancellation of more than 5000 shows, with 250 grassroots venues now at risk of eviction. Many in the live sector have also argued that the government’s own Events Research Programme shows that full capacity live events pose a minute risk of transmission of COVID-19, indicating that there is no reason to impose a further delay on reopening. The government has not yet published the full findings of that research.

“This delay is particularly disappointing because of the lengths to which the music industry has gone to reduce the risk of transmission and develop effective safe working protocols”, Njoku-Goodwin goes on. “We worked with the government on the recent pilot events, which were a huge success and saw just a handful of COVID-19 cases among the 58,000 people who attended”.

Given the impact more delays to the reopening of the live industry is likely to have, UK Music is calling on the government to provide more financial support to those businesses and individuals effected.

For many people working in live music – particularly freelancers – the last year and a half has been a time without any income at all. And the trade body is now calling for specific new support for freelancers until the live sector can fully reopen.

It has also again called for a government-backed cancellation insurance scheme for festivals to be launched – something that has been resisted by British ministers so far, despite repeated calls from across the industry. It also says that there must be further extensions of the Business Rate Relief scheme, furlough and self-employed income schemes, and the moratorium on evictions for venues.

In its own statement, the Music Venue Trust says that while its position remains that “protection of public health is an over-arching issue which needs to be addressed and has primacy over other considerations”, inconsistencies in the current rules unfairly punish the live music business.

“Mass gatherings of people, both indoors and outdoors, are already taking place”, it says. “Singing, dancing, close contact, mask free events took place right across England yesterday. The government’s position that such activities present a unique and special danger if a live band are playing is neither believable nor supported by the science. If the risk is behavioural, the government should explain how the same behaviours in different events can be either restricted or not restricted based on a government decision, and how such a decision is supported by the science”.

“The continued restrictions to culture are a serious blow to the grassroots music venue sector, with potential damage to hundreds of businesses, thousands of staff and tens of thousands of workers”, it goes on. “The government should immediately recognise the risk of serious harm being done to people’s lives, business, jobs and livelihoods and respond with swift, decisive action. The clock is ticking. Don’t fail now”.

The new target date for the lifting of restrictions is 19 Jul, with a review set to take place in two weeks. There are already fears that there could be further delays, although Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday told MPs in the House Of Commons that he did not foresee this being the case.

“Our goal”, he said, “is to make sure we get as much vaccination done between now and [19 Jul] – especially those second doses – to make sure we can open up safely, even if there is a rise in cases”.

Whether restrictions are lifted on 19 Jul, or the government heeds calls for support in the meantime, remains to be seen.

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