The UK Government has announced that from August 1, audiences in England will be able to return to indoor venues, though under conditions of social distancing.
The forced closure of venues due to Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on arts organisations and performers, though there was much relief at the announcement earlier this month of a £1.57 billion rescue package for the sector, described at the time by Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, as 'a vital next step on the road to recovery for the industry [which] will help to support and sustain the UK’s vibrant arts ecology through this crisis.'
However, without public performances being able to begin again, the future for the sector was still looking unclear.
According to today’s statement: ‘The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with the sector on pilots of performances with socially distanced audiences that will inform final guidance for venues in the run up to August 1. These include the London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s, London with a variety of further events in the coming weeks.’
The announcement only applies to England; such a decision for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland lies with of the devolved administrations.
According to Government guidance, ‘further measures to support the safe return of audiences’, should include:
- Reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing can be maintained
- Tickets will be purchased online and venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace
- Venues should have clearly communicated social distancing marking in place in areas where queues form and adopt a limited entry approach
- Increased deep cleaning of auditoriums
- Performances should be scheduled to allow sufficient time to undertake deep cleaning before the next audience arrives
- Performers, conductors, musicians must observe social distancing wherever possible
The statement also said that ‘Singing and the playing of brass and wind instruments in groups or in front of an audience is still currently limited to professionals only,’ something that will disappoint those involved the country's hugely significant amateur choral scene, or churches where congregational hymn singing is still not allowed. This guidance 'will be updated as the evidence develops around singing, wind and brass instruments, and the wider public health context', according to the government.