UK Government Acknowledges Live Events And Nightclubs In Latest Roadmap Out Of Lockdown
LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images – Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his Feb. 22, press conference.
Johnson set out a four-step plan to ease coronavirus restrictions, expressing hope that life could get back to normal by the end of June.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has raised the hopes of many Britons, including those working in live events, that they might return to some form of normalcy by summer.
While hardly anyone believes this to mean large-scale festivals will return in 2021 – even though the government’s “evidence shows that it is safer for people to meet outdoors rather than indoors” – it’s a start.
According to Johnson’s Feb. 22 speech, the UK will implement a four-phase reopening plan starting March 8, when children and students are to resume face-to-face education.
Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts will be allowed to reopen, the “stay at home” rule will end, March 29. Travel abroad will continue to be prohibited with a small number of exceptions.
Phase two, beginning no earlier than April 12, will see the opening of what government has deemed “non-essential retail.” Indoor leisure facilities, most outdoor attractions, as well as “self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, can also reopen,” a summary of the four-phase plan on the UK government’s website reads.
Hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors, the need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks ends, as does the curfew.
Step three, which will be implemented no earlier than May 17, offer some good news for live events, seeing that the government will allow “performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number), and in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number).
“In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower),” the summary stated.
Most restrictions on meeting others outdoors will be lifted under phase three, and most businesses in all but the highest risk sectors will be able to reopen, including indoor hospitality as long as it’s table service.
About five minutes into his speech announcing the plan, Johnson got to the point everybody working in this industry has been waiting for: large-scale events. He said, “provided we continue to pass the four tests, then from the 21st of June, we will go to step four and say goodbye to most remaining restrictions, resuming large scale events like business conferences and football matches, lifting the limits on weddings, and reopening nightclubs.”
The UK industry has reacted. The Music Venue Trust (MVT) noted, “that this road map once again singles out live performance events as a specific risk which require that the sector is treated in a special way.
“Since March 2020, we have made the case to the government that if this is the case, based on their interpretation of the data, then it is logical that the government will choose to address that specific status with sector specific financial support to mitigate the damage being done to businesses and people’s lives, careers and families right across the live music industry.”
Still, it was “good to hear the government provide conditions under which initially socially distanced events, and then fuller capacity events, can take place. Based on this information, it is now possible to imagine how we Revive Live in grassroots music venues and develop that work into the full return of our domestic music scene,” the statement reads.
MVT particularly welcomes the fact that Johnson specifically mentioned “the value of nightlife” and included nightclubs in his speech, and seemed committed to abandon curfews as a measure.
It also referenced the UK budget, which will be announced next week and lay out the areas in which the government intends to invest. According to the MVT, the budget “must clearly lay out exactly how the government is going to provide that sector specific support.”
Ross Gilmore/Redferns via Getty Images – Gary Stringer of Reef performing at Belladrum Tartan Hearts Festival 2014 in Inverness, UK.
The Association of Independent Festivals fears for its members, many of whom won’t survive another year of event bans.
Paul Reed, CEO of the UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), is “optimistic that many of our member festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later on this year,” after listening to Johnson.
“There are still, however, some urgent points of clarity that need to be made around the exact requirements that festival organizers will need to meet, in particular around testing and Covid certification,” he added.
Reed emphasized, “we are rapidly approaching the decision cut off point for the vast majority of festivals at the end of March. If a complete picture is not given by this time, it will be too late for many to stage events later in the year.”
AIF acknowledges that it’s always possible the UK government will go back on its plans “if the data dictates.” In case events do need to cancel in the end, “it is vital that our sector receives swift and targeted Government support to compensate. In addition, Government intervention on insurance and VAT remain critical.”
The UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) fears the announcement may come too late. While CEO Michael Kill said he was “pleased to hear within the prime minister’s statement the inclusion of a timeline for night time economy businesses, in particular some of the hardest hit businesses, many of which have been closed since March 2020, like nightclubs, bars and casinos,” NTIA evidence suggested, “that 85% of those who work in the night time economy are considering leaving the sector.”
According to Kill, it is a sector that “urgently needs additional clarity on reopening and critical financial support from the chancellor if we are to avoid economic and social damage that will last a generation.”
The UK’s industry body for hospitality businesses, UK Hospitality, also reacted. Its chief executive Kate Nicholls said, “the prime minister says that the reopening schedule is driven by data, yet all the data points to hospitality being relatively safe and linked to only a tiny number of cases. Vaccinations and the fall in infection rates has de-risked our reopening even further,” adding that “over the past year, the Government has repeatedly miscalculated the risks posed by hospitality.”
Many hospitality businesses were “clinging onto existence” as it were, and for them, reopening still seems very far away. The easing of outdoor restriction doesn’t help most of them, as “only 40% of hospitality businesses have an outdoor area and, in some cases, this is little more than a table and a couple of chairs,” according to Nicholls.
What is more, enforcing table service and maintaining restrictions on the number of people and households in the initial reopening phases “will see businesses trading below sustainable levels.”