As lockdown restrictions begin to relax, we are all eager to understand what our new found freedom will look like. Will a night out be the same as before? Will festivals go ahead as normal? Will we need to carry vaccine passports to go to events? These are still hotly debated questions - but this post will take you through what we know so far, and why government proposals for events are proving so divisive.
In February, the UK government set out their ‘Spring 2021 Roadmap’ to ease the lockdown restrictions in England. Whilst the dates suggested are still provisional and subject to ‘data not dates’, here’s what we know so far about the proposed timelines for events and entertainment specifically:
Many events allowed to return if they are ‘covid secure’ and can follow capacity limits:
As the government has been so keen to stress, the roadmap dates are subject to change and could face set-backs if things like new variants or vaccine disruption have a knock-on effect on the infection rate. It’s not impossible therefore that events could be cancelled or moved at short notice if government guidance changes.
Further uncertainty could also arise at a local level. Under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions)(England)(No.3) Regulations 2020, local authorities will be able to prohibit, restrict or impose conditions on events and venues if they believe it poses a risk to public health or if there’s a local spike in COVID cases.
Disruption risk too great for many in the industry
For many event organisers the risk of cancellation has therefore meant it is simply too much of a risk to go ahead this year. Glastonbury, Download, and most recently Bluedot festival have all been cancelled, citing an inability to get cancellation insurance. Indeed, Bluedot organisers accuse the government of:
“refusing to step up and provide us with protection via a government-backed insurance scheme...without such a scheme…..the overwhelming risk and high upfront costs for us to hold Bluedot this year are sadly just too high”.
Caroline Dinenage (Culture Minister) told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into festivals that she is not prepared to look at an insurance package while significant uncertainty remains around live events.
There are however some event organisers who have decided to take the plunge this year despite the uncertainty that exists.
For example, Reading and Leeds festivals will go ahead over the August bank holiday and Latitude festival recently announced that it plans to run in July at full capacity with 40,000 people.
Line-ups and international performers:
Even if the UK permits large events to take place this summer, the stars of the show may still struggle to take part. In particular, the ability for overseas artists and performers to travel to the UK may be limited due to quarantine requirements and travel bans across the world. From some international artists, taking part in UK events and tours may simply be unviable.
It’s possible therefore that we’ll see last minute changes to line-ups if travel rules change at short notice. We may also see festivals with UK artists only in the line-up - just like the All Points East festival in London this year.
The government recently announced a series for pilot events over the course of April and May, hosting audiences in a range of settings such as the FA Cup Final at Wembley on 18 April and an event at the Circus Nightclub in Liverpool on 30 April. These pilots will be used to provide research into how larger events can be permitted to safely reopen by 21 June.
Researchers in the pilots will explore how things like social distancing, face coverings, event duration, alcohol sales and test-on-entry procedures could work, as well as the controversial system of ‘covid-status certification’ (see below).
It remains to be seen which safety measures will be enforced - the findings from the pilots are due to be finalised and provided to Ministers by the end of May so they can decide whether to give the green light to event organisers come June.
Requiring vaccine passports at large events is a controversial and divisive issue.
If bought in, certificates could evidence either an individual’s vaccination status, a recent negative COVID test or evidence of their natural immunity from past infection.
The government has indicated that ‘COVID certification’ could be used at theatres, nightclubs and festivals from June this year - pending the results of inquiries and pilots taking place over the next couple of months. Importantly, the government has insisted any use of such certification would be ‘time-limited’.
Organiser’s of Reading and Leeds Festivals have stated that they will ‘almost certainly’ need some sort of vaccine passport, and UK sports bodies have this week backed the use of ‘vaccine passports’ to allow the return of full capacity crowds in stadiums.
However some events and entertainment organisers are resistant to the government’s certification proposals. Michael Kill of the Night Time Industries Association has expressed his “deep concerns” over the measures, noting that the “positive news from the roadmap has been overshadowed by the potential impact of Covid status certificates...with the overwhelming majority of UK nightlife sector believing the measures will have a detrimental impact on trade...many [customers] are not comfortable using health information to gain access to venues or events”.
Campaigners and MPs are also concerned about the potential for discrimination and creating a “check-point Britain” if vaccine passports are required. In particular, if only vaccine status is accepted by venues, such a system could exclude pregnant women, young people, and those with underlying health conditions who cannot currently get the jab.
MPs are expected to be given a vote on covid certification in due course. It remains to be seen whether political opposition will topple the government's proposals.
While there is definitely hope for the events and entertainment industry this year, there’s a lot of uncertainty and frustration as we lead up to the 21 June milestone. What is clear is that events that do go ahead will almost definitely need to introduce new safety measures and precautions - but hopefully they will still be enjoyed by all those lucky enough to attend!
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