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Touring business on alert after Omicron warning

Moderna chief's prediction over vaccine efficacy sparks concern among live industry, as global markets fall

By James Hanley on 30 Nov 2021

Rock en Seine will return in 2022

AEG Presents' Rock en Seine festival in France

The global touring business is on high alert following the detection of the new Covid variant Omicron.

While it will take two weeks for definitive data to emerge, an interview with Moderna chief Stephane Bancel in today’s FT – in which he predicted existing vaccines would be “much less effective” at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of the virus – has raised alarm bells across the industry.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” said Bancel. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.”

Global stock markets have fallen following Bancel’s warning. Live Nation’s share price, which rocketed to an all-time high of $125.88 earlier this month on the back of the company’s glowing Q3 report, fell to $98.92 on Friday in the wake of Omicron’s discovery in South Africa. At the time of writing, it was down 1.26% for today to $106.77.

Elsewhere, shares in CTS Eventim have declined 1.5% (-6.28% over five days) to €57.64, Eventbrite was down 1.85% (-11.03%) to $14.84 and Madison Square Garden Entertainment dipped 4.8% (-1.51%) to $65.42.

It’s not looking good, but it’s still early to tell

Ozzy Osbourne rescheduled his long-delayed UK and European dates to 2023 earlier this week “due to the unprecedented and ever-changing situation”, but there have been no other reports of postponements.

Speaking to IQ, AEG Presents France head Arnaud Meersseman concedes the fresh developments have caused consternation among the live community and cast plans for at least the first quarter of 2022 into doubt.

“I think it’s not looking good, but it’s still early to tell,” he says. “We’re already seeing a lot of requests of acts in Q1 asking to move their shows – the problem is we have nowhere to move them.”

The UK government has re-introduced measures including wearing masks within shops and on public transport in England, coupled with more stringent border controls.

Michael Kill, boss of the UK’s Night-time Industries Association (NTIA) describes the new variant as “hugely concerning” but says he is “encouraged” by the government’s decision not to mitigate against hospitality and night time economy settings. All adults in England will be offered a booster jab by the end of January.

“Although somewhat tentative about the coming weeks, [we] need to be clear that the sector is still extremely fragile and will not survive further trade inhibiting restrictions or a potential lockdown,” says Kill.

“The current baseline mitigations within businesses across this industry have been extremely effective. Coupled with the vaccination programme we must remain confident that we are in a stronger position to deal with variants than many other countries across the world.”

Thousands of businesses, sole traders and artists are at the mercy of new strains

Down Under, Australian live music and entertainment industry bodies have responded to Omicron by reiterating calls for a government-backed insurance scheme.

“The emergence of this new variant on the heels of Delta and the rapid global response to limit its spread is a salutary reminder that this is not over yet,” says the alliance, which comprises AAM, AFA, ALMBC, AMIN, APRA AMCOS, ARIA, PPCA and Live Performance Australia.

“Thousands of businesses, sole traders and artists are at the mercy of new strains and the ongoing threat of more government lockdowns and reimposition of restrictions.”

Earlier this month, the Victorian government announced plans to launch a 12-month pilot scheme that will insure up to AUS$230 million (€148m) of events.

“For this scheme to truly work, however, the industry urged the prime minister to develop a national scheme that reflects the industry’s national economic and employment footprint,” the statement continues. “We again call on the federal government to step up and coordinate a co-contribution scheme shared with the states and territories.

“The Australian live music and entertainment sector has long argued that a government-backed insurance scheme is crucial to allowing the sector to rebuild, maintain employment and rapidly restore its critical economic and cultural contribution to the nation.

“The industry calls on all levels of government to come together and establish a partnership approach with industry, delivering a government-backed insurance scheme and ongoing support.”


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