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In Boost for UK Live Industry, Government Lifts COVID-19 Restrictions

Plan B measures scheduled to end for music venues starting next week include proof of vaccination or negative tests, and mandatory face coverings.

LONDON — The U.K. government will lift restrictions for nightclubs and music venues across the United Kingdom starting next week, including the legal requirement for patrons to carry COVID-19 vaccine passports to gain entry, bringing a much-needed boost to the country’s struggling live industry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the end of ‘Plan B’ measures in England on Wednesday (Jan. 19). The restrictions, which the government introduced in December to tackle a sharp rise in cases of the coronavirus omicron variant, could now be eased due to falling infection rates, Johnson said. In a statement in the House of Commons, he told MPs that scientists believed the omicron wave had peaked in the country.

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Plan B measures scheduled to end on Jan. 27 include the requirement for people aged over 18 to show they have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine (or proof of a negative test taken in the past 48 hours) to enter English music venues and nightclubs, although venue operators can still choose to require the NHS Covid pass if they want to.

Other restrictions set to be dropped include mandatory face coverings in public places and the government’s recommendation that people in England should work from home, if possible.

On Tuesday, the U.K. recorded 108,069 new cases of COVID-19 with positive cases over the past seven days falling 37% to 652,469. Over the same seven-day period 1,865 people have died within 28 days of getting a positive test, a rise of 8.2% from the previous week. A total of 3.4 million Britons were estimated to be infected with the virus in the seven days leading to Jan. 15, down from 4.3 million the week before, according to The Office for National Statistics.

On Tuesday, the Scottish government said it would lift most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 24, allowing nightclubs to reopen and music concerts to resume after being closed since late December.

Wales is also dropping most of its coronavirus restrictions next week, although vaccine passports will still be required in both Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is the only U.K. nation yet to say when its lockdown measures will be eased.

“This is a moment we can all be proud of,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said at a Downing Street press conference following the Prime Minister’s announcement. He cautioned that although the omicron wave of infections is now “in retreat” across the U.K., the ending of restrictions should not be seen as “the finish line” in the almost two-year battle against coronavirus. “We must proceed with caution,” said Javid.

The scrapping of vaccine passports for nightclubs and music venues was welcomed by live execs still reeling from devastating losses they suffered over the holiday period. According to the Music Venue Trust, attendance at live shows dropped 23% in the six days following the government’s Dec. 8 announcement of Plan B measures, with losses for grassroots venues totaling almost £2 million ($2.7 million). Advance ticket sales fell 27% in the same period.

Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill says the losses incurred by nightclubs, bars and music venues over the past month has left many businesses in “an extremely fragile state” and expects it to take years for the sector to recover.

The ending of Plan B measures means that venue operators are now “finally able to plan for the future with some level of certainty and without debilitating restrictions,” says Kill, but he warned that more financial support from government is still needed for the night time economy and hospitality sector.