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Fears are growing over a potential delay to the 21 June deadline for lifting restrictions, as multiple parties threaten legal action to prevent a change of course
By Gordon Masson on 09 Jun 2021
The UK’s live entertainment community is holding its breath for the government’s long-awaited 14 June Covid briefing, after speculation started to emerge over a proposed delay in allowing venues and festivals to reopen without restrictions.
With 21 June stated as the day when the government wants all restrictions in England to end, the spread of the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 (also known as the Delta variant) in certain cities and communities is reportedly prompting scientists and government advisors to push for a delay from anywhere between two to four weeks.
The threat of such a postponement is being met with frustration and anger in parts of the live events industry, with luminaries such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber threatening legal action, while other businesses great and small worry if their return-to-work policies for staff have been activated too prematurely.
For others, any delay could prove far more damaging.
“It could be the final nail in the coffin for many grass roots venues,” exclaims Music Venue Trust (MVT) CEO Mark Davyd. “If they are prevented from reopening their doors, building landlords may cancel their lease and we will end up losing these venues for good.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Phil Bowdery, chairman of the Concert Promoters Association. “It’s critical that the government proceeds with its plans to end restrictions on 21 June. By its own admission through the Events Research Programme (ERP), large-scale events are inherently safe so long as the right precautions – in the form of testing – are in place.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail newspaper, composer Lloyd Webber, who owns seven West End theatres, is questioning the legality of the government retaining social distancing rules beyond 21 June, especially when the ERP’s test shows have proved that there is no greater risk of infection at concerts and other live events.
“If the schools, pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open, but live music venues are prevented from reopening, it makes no sense whatsoever”
“If the government’s own science has told them that buildings are safe, I’m advised that at that point things could get quite difficult,” says Lloyd Webber. “This is the very last thing that anybody wants to do, but there would [be] a legal case at that point because it’s their science – not ours.”
MVT founder Davyd is equally bemused. “Government has laid down the criteria over whether live music and other performances could return to normal. We’ve met that criteria and now it seems like they are still thinking about keeping live music venues closed when there’s absolutely zero evidence to show that they change the transmission of the virus.
“If the schools, pubs and restaurants are allowed to remain open, but live music venues are prevented from reopening, it makes no sense whatsoever,” adds Davyd. “Keeping the Cheese & Grain [850-cap.] venue closed in Frome – where there is no Covid infection – is not going to help the infection rate up in Blackburn.”
The Night Time Industries Association has also said it will “challenge” the government if there is a delay to 21 June. “The decision to delay will leave us no other option but to challenge the Government aggressively, standing alongside many other industries who have been locked down or restricted from opening,” says CEO Michael Kill.
Rumours over a U-turn on the 21 June roadmap deadline began circulating last week when the Independent Sage group of scientists warned that the rise of the Delta variant in the UK could soar if England’s lockdown ends as planned.
“As things stand, it is very difficult to justify progressing with the last stage of the roadmap, scheduled for 21 June, a point that should be made now, to modify current false hopes,” said Independent Sage.
“Public Health England figures released on June 3 suggest that the Delta variant has spread widely across the UK and is continuing to spread, that it has higher infectivity than the previous circulating variant, and that it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation.”
“There would be a legal case at that point because it’s their science, not ours”
Government advisors will also be analysing data that shows the Delta variant is rare in people who have been vaccinated, while hospitalisations throughout the UK are currently flat, rather than rising as the infection spreads.
However, adding more uncertainty over the deadline, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “It’s too early to say what the decision will be about step four of the road map, which is scheduled to be no earlier than June 21.
“Of course, I look at those data every day, we publish them every day, the case numbers matter but what really matters is how that translates into the number of people going to hospital, the number of people sadly dying. The vaccine breaks that link, the question is how much the link has yet been broken because the majority of people who ended up in hospital are not fully vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, those living in the Greater Manchester and Lancashire areas – where Covid is spreading fast – were today placed under new travel rules to combat spiralling Delta variant cases.
Residents are being advised to minimise travel in and out of the areas, while the army is being brought into the region to replicate the widespread vaccination drive that it helped to roll out in the neighbouring city of Bolton, under similar circumstances, in May.
IQ understands that the UK government is planning to make its final decision on the 21 June reopening as late as Sunday 13 June, or even the day of the announcement, Monday 14 June, meaning that the data gathered over the remainder of this week will be crucial.
In recent days the indication is that the average number of daily cases is now slowly rising in the UK. Figures for yesterday (8 June) reveal 6,048 new confirmed cases, but just 13 deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 28 days.
“Government now needs to kickstart the ‘new normal’ economy rather than continuing to dither”
Nevertheless, a number of towns, cities and communities are experiencing sharp rises in case numbers due to the Delta variant, which is known to spread quicker than other variants, leading the Sage scientists and other experts to predict that the country may be on the verge of a third wave of infections.
But should the government bow to pressure, the timing of such a disappointing announcement will be scrutinised, given that on Sunday (13 June), 22,000 football fans will be in Wembley Stadium for England versus Croatia in the European Championships.
At press time, it was announced that the game would be the first sporting event at which so-called vaccine ‘passports’ will be used in the UK, with attendees required to show proof of full vaccination, with both doses having been received at least 14 days before the match. Those not fully vaccinated must show proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within the previous 48 hours.
The timing of the game is not lost upon Davyd. “We’ve basically asked the government that whatever position they take it should be a logical one,” he says. “Not allowing venues and festivals to reopen is not going to change the transmission rate.
“As far as I see it, they have two options: they can reopen everything; or they can announce that some things they have already allowed are increasing the infection rate and they should be closed down. But keeping other businesses from reopening – when they have not played any role in the infection rate rising – just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Equally as frustrated, CPA chief Bowdery underlines the plight of hundreds of thousands of people and business that rely on live events for their income. “Government now needs to kickstart the ‘new normal’ economy rather than continuing to dither, helping to secure the future of the live music sector, which currently hangs in the balance,” adds Bowdery.
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