Industry divided over vaccinated-only concerts
Nearly six months after Maggie Keenan, a 90-year-old Briton, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial, opinion remains divided among international live music professionals about how, if at all, fans’ vaccination status should be taken into account as live activity resumes.
Nowhere is this more the case than in the United States, where the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) say that those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (i.e. had both jabs of one of the three vaccines, BioNTech/Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or Moderna, approved for use in the US) may once again attend indoor events, including concerts, with no need for social distancing or mask wearing.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told press at the White House earlier this month. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Following the CDC’s announcement, some of the country’s most famous concert venues, including the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden arena in New York and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl (17,500-cap.), have signalled they will differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated patrons when they reopen, with the latter planning designated vaccinated seating sections where no social distancing will be required.
MSG, along with other venues in New York, will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if patrons show proof of vaccination, under plans drawn up by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo. It hosted 15,000 people for a New York Knicks basketball game earlier this week, with vaccinated fans not required to wear a face covering.
New York venues will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination
In Florida, meanwhile, a concert promoter made headlines yesterday (26 May) after announcing plans for a ‘no-vax tax’ that would see concertgoers charged 50 times as much for tickets should they choose not to get the vaccine.
Leadfoot Promotions, which is promoting a show by pop-punk legends Teenage Bottlerocket in Saint Petersburg on 26 June, explains: “DISCOUNTED tickets are available for $18 in advance, $20 day of show. To be eligible for the DISCOUNT, you will need to bring a government issued photo ID and your PHYSICAL COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. […] If you do not care about the discount, tickets are available for a flat rate of $999.99.
“Note that all staff, volunteers, and band members will be vaccinated. Also know if you buy one of these advance tickets and show up without your vaccination card or government issued photo id [sic], you won’t be let in at this price, you will need to pay the remaining $981.99 to enter or go back and get your card. There will be NO REFUNDS. We are NOT telling you what to do here, we are making a business decision and letting the market decide. If someone wants to come in unvaccinated, they will scare off a large number of patrons and will need to pay the difference.”
Speaking to Tampa Bay’s ABC Action News, Leadfoot’s Paul Williams explains: “We’re just trying to do a show safely. And they [fans] should go out and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and their community.”
Back in New York, baseball team the Brooklyn Nets is also incentivising immunisation by charging more for tickets sold to fans who have yet to receive both vaccines, as well as introducing a Hollywood Bowl-style vaccinated-only section at its home venue, the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center.
“We are not telling you what to do – we are making a business decision and letting the market decide”
Williams says he came up with idea of a ‘tax’ after realising in Florida he probably couldn’t legally restrict entry to those who can prove their vaccination status.
In contrast to the position taken by Cuomo in New York – where a planned ‘Excelsior pass’ will verify New Yorkers’ vaccination status – Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken a hard line on vaccine certification, having signed into law a ban on so-called vaccine passports earlier this month.
“Under no circumstances will the state be asking you to show proof of vaccination,” said DeSantis, “and I don’t think private companies should be doing that either. If you want to go to an event, go to an event. If you don’t, don’t. But to be requiring people to provide all this proof, that’s not how you get society back to normal.”
The launch of the Excelsior pass follows the successful roll-out of the similar green pass in Israel, where promoters were once again putting on (non-socially distanced) shows before the recent flare-up in violence. In fact, so successful is the combination of vaccination + certification that Israel will axe all restrictions – including the green pass – from the beginning of June, though health minister Yuli Edelstein says it could be re-introduced should the situation change. For now, he said, “The economy and the citizens of Israel will get extra room to breathe.”
Despite allowing for concerts of thousands of people in pandemic conditions, the green pass programme is not without its critics: writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph today (27 May), five Israeli doctors say the scheme has ‘backfired’ by creating “two classes of citizens: the upper vaccinated and the lower unvaccinated”. This situation, they say, has resulted in a situation incompatible with the “basic principles of the medical profession”.
Talk of vaccine ‘passports’ is equally controversial in the UK, where critics warn of government overreach and an ‘us and them’ society divided along vaccination lines. As such, the UK live business is pushing for a system of certification that would also include people who have natural immunity to the virus, or who can produce a negative Covid-19 test.
“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution”
Writing to the government last month, a cross-section of the UK live entertainment, events and sports sector suggested that so-called Covid-status certification is the key to reopening venues safely following the planned abolition of all restrictions on 21 June.
“Not to be confused with the term ‘vaccination passports’, the simple premise is to reduce the likelihood of people who may be infected from attending events and ensure the safety of other attendees and event staff,” say the signatories, who include AEG Europe, the Concert Promoters’ Association, Ticketmaster, ASM Global and umbrella body LIVE. “This would be managed by ensuring that all attendees are either vaccinated OR have natural immunity OR have a negative Covid test within a set period of time prior to arrival.”
Unlike restricting entry only to those who have had the vaccine, certification would not discriminate against those who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable having being immunised against the virus, they say.
“The intention of Covid-status certification is to find a non-discriminatory solution that is safe, simple, protects privacy and doesn’t cause unnecessary delays or a poor experience for visitors,” the letter reads.
Outside of live events, vaccine passports are also being trialled for international travel, with the European Union, China and Japan among those developing digital vaccination certificates to enable the resumption of overseas holidays from this summer.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
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