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Fans to return to outdoor events in England, venues left angry

Outdoor events in England can welcome fans back in certain areas as part of the country’s new three tier system announced today (Monday), and will come into effect on December 2.

The UK’s Covid Winter Plan, which expires at the end of March and puts areas in England into one of three tiers, will see fans be able to return to outdoor events in tiers 1 and 2, including sporting events.

In tier 1 up to 4,000 people or 50 per cent of the usual capacity can gather, whichever is smaller, while in tier 2 the number is 2,000 people, or 50 per cent of usual capacity. With indoor events, the ceiling is 1,000 people.

Venues can remain open in regions that are in the lower two tiers, as long as they provide table service only and close between 11pm and 5am. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can stay open beyond 11pm in order to conclude performances that start before 10pm.

The allocation of regions to tiers will not be announced until Thursday after more local data on coronavirus is assessed. Conditions will be the same for all areas in the same tier, with no local negotiations.

While fans are set to return to major sporting venues for the first time since March, many in the entertainment industry feel that the move is “disproportionately and unfairly” targeted at the hospitality sectors.

Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre, said in response: “Today’s announcement of new restrictions for performing arts venues in all tiers has shaken an already fragile sector.

“Closure of venues in tier 3 areas will mean cancellation of pantos and other shows, risking organisations’ long-term survival and leaving theatre freelancers adrift with no compensation.

“The capacity constraints in tiers 1 and 2 will lead to financial problems for venues and disappointment for audiences. It is unclear why these have been instituted in a sector with no known spread of the virus. As ever, we remain committed to working with Government to secure the survival of our world-leading theatre sector.”

Meanwhile, the Night Time Industry Association has pointed to the fact that Public Health England has stated that high levels of transmissions occur predominantly within households, care homes, workplaces and education yet the government still considers the current strategy around hospitality, and restrictions within the sector to be relevant and proportionate to the levels of transmission.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said: “The industry has been left angry and frustrated by the new restrictions set out by the Prime Minister today. This shows a complete lack of consideration and understanding of our sector.

“This will have a catastrophic impact on thousands of businesses and jobs across the sector by the end of the year. For many business owners this is beyond ignorance. This is tantamount to systematically culling our industry with intent.

“The Government has simply got this wrong. It is an appalling misjudgment. Our sector has worked incredibly hard alongside Government departments, to ensure that our businesses are ‘Covid Safe’, only to be hit again with unworkable restrictions that have no evidence base.

“We are being condemned to an excruciating financial hardship, until the Government can rally around a workable vaccine solution. The Support from furlough is welcome. However, sadly many of these businesses will not survive to retain their staff and will suffer from a continuation of current extreme problems around cash fluidity, commercial rent debt and exit strategy. We can’t help but feel that our industry is being sacrificed for other sectors to open during the festive period.”

The allocation of regions to tiers will not be announced until Thursday after more local data on coronavirus is assessed. Conditions will be the same for all areas in the same tier, with no local negotiations.

In addition, Music Venue Trust (MVT) explains why the new system of restrictions contains a “very specific challenge” to Grassroots Music Venues, and urges the Government to “think again on the issue of alcohol sales at permitted ticketed events within Tier 2.”

In Tier 2, venues are permitted to deliver live music events, though alcohol will only be able to be consumed if it is accompanied by ‘a substantial meal’.

MVT said it has repeatedly detailed that income within the grassroots sector derives 65 per cent from wet sales and 35 per cent from ticket sales. It said in a statement: “It is not possible to deliver an economically viable event in this sector without the financial support provided by alcohol sales. 92 per cent of Grassroots Music Venues do not have the necessary facilities to provide substantial food.”

It continued: “Failure to reach equivalency between food and culture on this issue results in a distorted market where an individual can choose to attend a restaurant, consuming as much alcohol as they wish, prior to a gig, but upon arrival at the event cannot consume any alcohol at all. This is an inconsistent and illogical approach.”