LONDON – Government plans in England to allow only fully vaccinated patrons into nightclubs and large music venues have been criticized as a “hammer blow” for the country’s struggling live and night-time industries as they seek to rebuild.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the new measures would come into force by the end of September, by which time everyone in England aged over 18 will have been offered both COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The prime minister — who is self-isolating at his Chequers country home after health minister Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19 — said the reversal in government policy was prompted by fears over the risk of coronavirus transmission in venues where people are in close contact, such as clubs and music venues.
The announcement was made on the same day that England lifted its last remaining COVID-19 restrictions, bringing an end to capacity limits and social distancing measures inside music and entertainment venues.
That prompted scores of nightclubs across the country to open just after midnight local time Monday to welcome back their first customers in almost 17 months.
The news that those same businesses will soon be required to make so-called “COVID passports” a condition of entry for all customers drew condemnation from nightclub industry execs. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholl said the plans dealt a devastating “hammer blow” to the sector and “risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery.”
Michael Kill, CEO of the U.K. Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), said that mandatory enforcement of COVID-19 vaccination passports for nightclubs placed them at a “competitive disadvantage with pubs and bars that aren’t subject to the same restrictions.”
According to research cited by the NTIA, 80% of nightclubs do not want to implement vaccination passports due to concerns over enforcing the certification and a reduction in spontaneous customers.
Earlier this month, the government gave hope to the sector when it indicated that COVID passports would not be compulsory for venue operators. At present, nightclubs are encouraged to ask clubbers to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result but are not legally required to do so. Nightclubs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain closed.
Responding to Boris Johnson’s July 19 announcement, which took many in the sector by surprise, Kill slammed the change in policy as “yet another chaotic U-turn” and an “absolute shambles.”
U.K. live industry body LIVE said it needed to see more detail about the government’s plans and how it will implement them to assess “the full impact for the live music industry.”
Elsewhere in Europe, a recent rise in COVID-19 infections in the Netherlands led to the government closing its nightclubs on July 10, only two weeks after they reopened. The Dutch government said most infections had occurred “in nightlife settings and parties with high numbers of people” and that extra safety measures were needed this summer as a result.
Venue operators and live execs in the U.K. are hoping that the same doesn’t happen there, with promoters increasingly desperate to save what remains of the British festival season.
Tentpole events scheduled to take place later this summer include the 185,000-capacity dual-site Reading and Leeds festivals headlined by Liam Gallagher, Stormzy and Post Malone, and the 70,000-capacity Creamfields, which features David Guetta, deadmau5, The Chemical Brothers, Alesso and Martin Garrix.
Indoor live shows booked for August and September include gigs by Gorillaz and Burna Boy at London’s The O2 arena, and Blossoms and Genesis at Manchester’s AO Arena, although the vast majority of U.K. touring is not scheduled to resume until the fall.
Despite the end of lockdown restrictions in England, concerns remain over the lack of a government-backed insurance scheme covering the cost of event cancellations as a result of COVID-19, similar to what’s been introduced in other European markets, like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Without that safety net in place, promoters are risking “huge financial losses and even bankruptcy” to stage events, warns Greg Parmley, CEO of LIVE. He calls the end of lockdown “bittersweet for the live music sector” due to the lack of insurance and calls on the government to urgently provide financial backing if it “wants to avoid a summer of silence.”
On Tuesday, the U.K. recorded 46,558 new cases of COVID-19 and the seven-day case average rose 40% compared with the week before. Over the past seven days, 342 people have died within 28 days of testing positive — a rise of 60% compared with the week before.
According to the latest data, over 36 million people in the U.K. have had both vaccine doses, equivalent to 69% of the adult population, and 46 million people have had one dose, or 88% of adults.