London is set to move into tier three from Wednesday, affecting the return of socially distanced fans at events including West End shows and Premier League football matches.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today (Monday) that the capital city is set to move into England’s highest level of coronavirus restrictions, stating there has been exponential growth in the virus in London, south and west Essex and the south of Hertfordshire.

He also told MPs that a new variant of the virus has been identified which may be “growing faster” than existing variants, and they have identified more than 1,000 cases – predominantly in the south of England.

The move will deal a major blow to the theatre sector which has only recently begun to welcome back fans since England’s lockdown ended on December 2.

The dozens of socially distanced productions scheduled to run over the Christmas period, plus numerous venues and major shows and pantomimes that had planned to return to performance for the first time since March, will no longer be able to go ahead as previously planned. There have been several major pantos lined up, which are often the biggest earner for theatres over the course of a year, at the National Theatre and the Palladium, plus a number of smaller productions.

Julian Bird, chief executive of Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said: “Today’s Government announcement placing London in Tier 3 from Wednesday is devastating news for the city’s world-leading theatre industry. The past few days have seen venues beginning to reopen with high levels of Covid security, welcoming back enthusiastic, socially distanced audiences.

“Theatres across London will now be forced to postpone or cancel planned performances, causing catastrophic financial difficulties for venues, producers and thousands of industry workers – especially the freelancers who make up 70 per cent of the theatre workforce.

“We urge the Government to recognise the huge strain this has placed on the sector and look at rapid compensation to protect theatres and their staff over Christmas in all areas of the country under Tier 3 restrictions.”

In addition, the move into tier three would mean the five Premier League clubs in London would be forced to close its doors to fans once again after only just over a week of reopening. West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Chelsea have been able to welcome up to 2,000 fans, but tier three means fans will be banned from attending once again.

Image: Oxfordian Kissuth / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Edited for size