As expected, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that, for the first time in 16 months, full capacity events will be able to go ahead from 19 July in England.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference today, 5 July, Johnson said, “We will remove all legal limits on the number of people meeting indoors and outdoors, we will allow businesses to reopen including nightclubs, and we will lift the limit on the numbers of people attending concerts, theatre and sports events. We will end the one-metre-plus rule on social distancing and the legal obligation to wear a face covering.”
Among the first full-capacity shows will be a 150th anniversary concert at London’s 5,272-capacity Royal Albert Hall on 19 July.
The prime minister said a final decision will be made on 12 July but the the intention is to remove restrictions, as planned, one week later.
He said the move follows data highlighting the greatly reduced mortality rates from Covid-19 as a result of the vaccine roll-out, with the UK having the highest per-capita vaccination rate in Europe behind only Malta.
“We have to balance the risks of the disease, which the vaccines have reduced but not eliminated, and the risks of continuing with legally-enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on people’s lives, livelihoods and on people’s health and mental health,” said Johnson. “We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, when will we be able to return to normal?”
Test and trace will continue, but the Government intends to replace isolation with daily testing. Businesses will be encouraged to display QR codes for customers to check in using the NHS Covid-19 app, to support NHS Test and Trace, although it will no longer be a legal requirement.
Johnson confirmed that from 19 July there will be no need to show Covid-19 status passports to gain entry to events: “There will be no Covid certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event although businesses and events can certainly make use of certification and the NHS app.”
Government said organisations can choose to ask visitors for proof of Covid status, “as long as they meet existing legal obligations including under equality law”.
The 19 July reopening will not be reflected in Wales or Scotland. However, Wales’s national health minister Eluned Morgan has suggested an announcement could be forthcoming mid next week.
She said the Welsh Government would not work toward a deadline that has been set out “artificially” by the UK Government for England: “Boris Johnson will do what is right for England and we will do what is right for Wales.
“In an ideal world we would like to move together. But here we’ve been following the data and will continue to do that.”
Festival operators, including Green Man owner Fiona Stewart, have lobbied the Welsh Government to help support the sector and recognise the need for a re-opening timeline.
In Scotland, which has some of the of the highest Covid rates in Europe, the government is expected to lift restrictions on 9 August, but it has suggested there will be an ongoing need for face coverings in certain circumstances such as public transport.
NOEA president Tom Clements said the organisation welcomed the PM’s announcement but insisted more needed to be done to protect the sector’s at-risk individuals and businesses: “This has been an incredibly difficult period for everyone and finally having some clarity for the industry is incredibly important if they are to rebuild their businesses and livelihoods.
“What is critical now though, is to look after those businesses that are still without income for the best part of two years, and to focus on helping the industry build back stronger, with less risk on creative event organisers and their suppliers. We need government help for both of these objectives and everyone at NOEA is committed to working to achieve them.”
Association of Independent Festivals CEO Paul Reed also welcomed the return of full capacity events but said it was too late for many UK festivals: “It is positive for organisers, fans and artists alike that there will be some activity this year, though clearly it is too late for the estimated 56% of UK festivals that have already been forced to cancel and are still awaiting details of emergency funding and the next round of the Culture Recovery Fund.
“We now urge Government to finally act on insurance and announce a Government-backed scheme immediately. Insurance remains the key obstacle to planning with confidence and there is no rationale for not implementing such a scheme if the Government’s roadmap is truly irreversible.
“We also need to ensure there is clear guidance for organisers and local authorities no later than 12 July, so that events don’t unravel at a local level. We ask that Government also explore solutions for staff that will be affected by test and trace and isolation policies working at events this summer.”
LIVE CEO Greg Parmley reiterated the urgent call for an insurance scheme, “Government ministers have repeatedly said that a scheme would be announced once the legal barriers to full performances were removed. Well, we are now almost at that point and there must be no further delay if we are to reap the benefits of the superb vaccine roll-out.”
Production Services Association chair David Keighley welcomed the news, emphasising that the concert touring, festivals and events sector, which is worth around £4.6bn per annum, has been the part of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic: “We were the first to stop and we are only now being allowed to reopen. We must all be truly thankful for the vaccines as this is the reason we can almost get back to normal.”
The Government has published the ‘COVID-19 Response: Summer 2021’ guidance document that sets out the details of the reopening measures. It is available here.