Audiences adhering to social distancing will be able to return to indoor theatres, music and performance venues in just a few weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced today. The PM unveiled a raft of changes to the UK coronavirus lockdown from a Downing Street briefing this morning, offering up a major boost to the arts industry which has been hit hard by the outbreak. Today’s positive announcement comes after the Government’s announcement of £1.57 billion of funding for the arts, culture and heritage sector earlier this month.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The UK’s performing arts sector is renowned across the world and I am pleased that we are making real progress in getting its doors reopened to the public with social distancing.
“From August indoor theatres, music venues and performance spaces will safely welcome audiences back across the country.
“This is a welcome step in the path to a return to normal and, coupled with our £1.57 billion rescue package, will help secure the future of this important sector.”
Speaking today, Mr Johnson said he hoped for a “more significant return to normality by November”, as he announced further reopening of the economy.
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He said: “From August 1, we will reopen most remaining leisure settings, namely bowling, skating rings, casinos and we will enable close contact services, beauticians to resume.
“Nightclubs, soft play areas – sadly – need to remain closed for now, although this will be kept under review.
“We will restart indoor performances to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sport stadia, with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.
“We will also allow wedding receptions for up to 30 people.”
He added: “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November, at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.”
When will theatres open?
Theatres will reopen from August 1.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is currently working with the sector on pilots of performances with socially distanced audiences, which will shape the reopening next month.
These include the London Symphony Orchestra at St Luke’s, London with a variety of further events in the coming weeks.
Spaces must only reopen if they are covid secure, however.
The announcement has been widely welcome by the arts communitty.
Composer and pianist Iain Farrington, who performed Chariots Of Fire in a comedy sketch with Rowan Atkinson at the London Olympics opening ceremony and whose work kicks off this year’s Proms, welcomed the announcement.
“It’s what we’ve all been wanting to hear for a long time,” he told the PA news agency.
“There is obviously a lot of detail to unpick, because how many people can be in a space, how much social distancing is required…” he said.
But Farrington, who has created a “mash-up” of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for the start of this year’s Proms, added that “our funding models are such that you need something like 75% to 80% full houses before you can break even.
“And if you can only run… at 50%, you’ll definitely make a loss on anything large scale.
“But what will be great is just to be able to do smaller-scale things, string quartets, piano recitals, song recitals, small theatre pieces for a handful of actors, that kind of thing would be wonderful.
“And we’ve got to start somewhere.”
The enws today comes after Health secretary Matt Hancock revealed he has ordered an urgent review into how Public Health England (PHE) calculates daily Covid-19 death figures.
Researchers have criticised “statistical flaws” in the way the deaths are reported across England, saying they are left looking far worse than any other part of the UK.
PHE’s figures feed into the daily death statistics published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Data from Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency is also fed in.