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UK Concert Industry Takes Legal Action Over COVID-19 Events Test Program

The U.K. live industry has turned to legal action to try to force the government to publish its findings into how venues and festivals can safely reopen.

LONDON — The U.K. live industry has turned to legal action to try to force the government to publish its findings into how venues and festivals can safely reopen.

In April, the British government launched its Events Research Program (ERP) to study the risk of transmission of COVID-19 at a range of live music and sporting events. Although it made some of the scientific data gathered from the test shows public, the government has yet to publish its full report. That leaves the U.K. live industry facing “the real chance that the entire summer could collapse for the second year running,” says Stuart Galbraith, head of Kilimanjaro Live and co-founder of U.K. live music body LIVE.

To try and prevent that outcome, LIVE and six other parties, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, have filed papers in the British High Court requesting the immediate disclosure of the full ERP report and any countervailing material.

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The legal application lists the U.K. culture and health secretaries as proposed defendants and says the basis for maintaining the audience number restrictions in the U.K. remains “unclear.”

The claimants cite initial results from the first phase test events as evidence that with proper precautions in place, live events at full capacity can go ahead safely. Test events included two club nights in Liverpool, attended by 6,000 people; a 5,000-capacity outdoor concert, also in Liverpool, headlined by Blossoms; and the Brit Awards at London’s The O2 arena on May 11, where a live audience of 4,000 people attended without masks or social distancing. More recently, a scaled-back version of Download Festival in Leicestershire on June 18-20 in front of 10,000 rock and metal fans participated in the test program.

Audience members submitted to enhanced COVID-19 testing before and after each event.

According to data published by Liverpool City Council last month, 11 people tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the club and live music events and there was no detectable spread of the virus.

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The Brit Awards resulted in no positive cases, culture secretary Oliver Dowden told The Evening Standard newspaper on May 25.

“We struggle to understand why these trials took place if the government can’t now tell us the results and how that will affect all of us,” musician and festival operator Peter Gabriel says in a statement supporting the legal action.

Gabriel says the U.K. festival industry is “on the brink of collapse” and that he would soon be forced to take the “heart-wrenching decision” to cancel his WOMAD world music festival, scheduled for July 22-25 in Wiltshire, due to a lack of government support.

Lloyd Webber called the situation “beyond urgent” and said the government’s actions “are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff.”

The U.K. was due to move to step 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown on June 21 — dubbed “freedom day” by the British press — when music venues and nightclubs would be able to reopen without capacity limits or social distancing measures. However, a significant rise in coronavirus cases of the Delta variant led Prime Minister Boris Johnson to push back the reopening to July 19.

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In a response to Billboard about the legal action, a government spokesperson says the Events Research Program is subject to “a comprehensive and rigorous coordination and approval process” and the report will be published before the move to Step 4 “as we have always promised to.”

Live execs, however, fear that will be too late to save most summer music events. According to research carried out by LIVE, around 5,000 live music gigs will be cancelled because of the four-week delay to reopening. Festivals that have been pulled since the delay was announced include Kendal Calling, Truck Festival and Beyond the Woods.

Execs believe those cancellations — and many more before them — could have been prevented had ministers listened to industry calls for a government-backed insurance scheme offering protection for events unable to go ahead because of the coronavirus.

“Even now, the live music sector has no idea what the rest of the summer brings,” says Galbraith, “and we are left with a complete inability to plan ahead.”

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