UK government’s Plan B COVID measures for England are “devastating” says night-time sector


December 9, 2021

There has been a mixed response from the music and night-time sectors to the introduction of Plan B COVID measures in England. The Night Time Industries Association called the development “devastating news”, however others have expressed relief that new COVID Passport requirements will allow venues to grant admission to those who can show a negative COVID test result as well as those with vaccine certificates.

UK Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson confirmed yesterday that the government was introducing Plan B measures in a bid to constrain the spread of the so called omicron variant of COVID-19. People who can should work from home again, face masks will be mandatory in most public places, and clubs and some venues will be obliged to check COVID Passports.

The latter measure – which is the most significant for the night-time and music sectors, of course – is already in force in Scotland, Wales and, as of the start of this month, Northern Ireland.

When COVID Passports were first introduced in Scotland only those who were fully vaccinated could enter venues where such checks were mandatory. However, the rules then changed, with Scotland subsequently moving to the system already introduced in Wales, where proof of a negative COVID test is also acceptable.

That’s the system that will apply in England, where COVID Passport plans were previously abandoned – or, technically speaking, relegated to Plan B.

Businesses obliged to check COVID Passports from next Wednesday include all nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4000 people, and any event with more than 10,000 people.

Although extra regulations for a live sector that is still very much recovering from nearly eighteen months of shutdown are a major hassle – especially when promoters and venues have already put in place various other COVID safety measures – some reckon a COVID Passport scheme that also accepts negative test results is more workable.

Speaking for the live music sector, Greg Parmley from LIVE said last night: “The introduction of Plan B results in an unfair double standard that allows people to go on all-day pub crawls in crowded bars without having to prove their COVID-19 status, whilst live music venues get hit with certification. Across the country, music venues and events already have tried, tested and workable systems in place to ensure that live events continue to be safe – and these remain effective”.

“However”, he went on, “after such a prolonged closure throughout the pandemic it is important the industry is able to remain open and that the government have listened to the industry and included the use of lateral flow testing in COVID certification”.

That latter point was echoed by the Music Venue Trust, which has been encouraging gig-goers to always take a lateral flow COVID test before attending any shows, even when such things are not being checked at the door.

Its CEO Mark Davyd said of the new regulations: “Whilst this is obviously a blow to the progress in the battle against the virus, we are pleased that the government has listened to the grassroots music venue sector and adopted a COVID Pass policy that recognises testing. MVT’s #TakeaTest policy has been extremely successful in limiting infection incidents in grassroots music venues, and we welcome the news that this has been recognised in the new policy”.

However, Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association was much more scathing of the government’s decision to introduce the Plan B measures at this time.

He said: “Today’s announcement of Plan B by the government is devastating news for the nightlife sector. Vaccine passports have a damaging impact on night time economy businesses, as we seen in other parts of the UK where they have been implemented like Scotland – where trade is down 30% – and Wales – where it is down 26%”.

The announcement that Plan B measures were being introduced came as Johnson and his government dealt with headline-grabbing allegations that the Prime Minister’s own team at Ten Downing Street ignored the COVID rules that were in force this time last year so that they could have a Christmas party. Johnson, of course, has been seeking to battle that scandal with the usual torrent of bullshit, though with that strategy not really working this time, some have speculated he is now employing that other favoured political tool, the distraction tactic.

Noting that speculation, Kill added that the government’s own research concluded that COVID Passports “wouldn’t even have a significant impact on virus transmission – they don’t stop the spread of COVID but they do damage trade. You do, therefore, have to question the timing and rationale for this announcement. Is this sound evidence-based public policy making or is this an attempt to move the news agenda on from a damaging story about the Downing Street Christmas party? It feels that nightclubs and bars have been thrown under the bus by the Prime Minister for him to save his own skin”.

The PM has obviously denied that the introduction of Plan B measures has anything to do with the latest scandal he is navigating. Though, of course, even if the timing is a coincidence, the two things are still connected, with the scandal potentially impacting on the extent to which people will adhere to the new rules.

Kill concluded that the owners of night-time businesses “who have already sacrificed so much during the pandemic, will be asking – ‘why are we being asked to carry more of the burden when it seems that the most senior government officials felt they didn’t need to do their bit?'”

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