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Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown includes the possibility of lower capacity events by May 17 and full reopening with testing before the end of June.

Boris Johnson says the road out of lockdown will be "cautious but also irreversible"

Dominic Lipinski

The cultural sector in England could reopen fully by June 21 pending continued wins in the fight against Covid-19, the Prime Minister has announced.

Boris Johnson unveiled his four-stage "roadmap" out of lockdown on Monday afternoon, cautioning that progress towards the final step - an end to social distancing requirements and reopening "everything up to and including night clubs" - will be determined by "data not dates".

Theatres, cinemas and concert halls may be able to open at a lower capacity by May 17 under step three of the plan. The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre advised members the limits outlined in the ill-fated Covid winter plan would apply: 50% capacity or 1000 people indoors or 4000 outdoors, whichever is lower.

Large outdoor seated events where crowds can be socially distanced may reach the lower of 10,000 or 25% capacity.


Johnson said step three will also see the Government "pilot larger events using enhanced testing with the ambition of further easing [restrictions] in the next step".

Indeed, mass testing is key to the Government's approach: the step four reopening of venues will involve testing to reduce the risk of infections.

Some arts organisations shared their tenative reopening plans following Monday's announcement. Bath's Victoria Art Gallery says it will reopen with a major new exhibition by May 18, Midlands Air Festival is ready to go on the first weekend of June, and Oxford Playhouse is "looking forward with optimism" to confirming dates for its summer season as soon as possible.

Johnson also announced a review into "the safe return of major events" as one of four such investigations over the coming months. One of the other reviews will consider introducing 'Covid status certification': "[We are] mindful the many concerns surrounding exclusion, discrimination and privacy," Johnson said.

Even though the vaccine has "changed the odds in our favour", the Prime Minister conceded that "lifting lockdown will result in more hospitalisations and more deaths".

"There is no credible route to a covid-safe or zero-covid world."

Libraries and communities centres can reopen at step two, which will be no earlier than April 12, and socially distanced outdoor events could resume at a similar time. 

University students will be allowed on site for "specialist" teaching from March 8, opening the door to conservatoires and other music and drama schools to restart more normal teaching.

Cautious but irreversible

The roadmap provdides long-sought 'not before' dates for reopening the cultural sector.

UK Music Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said the roadmap is "fantastic news": "UK Music has consistently called for clarity and certainty from the Government, so it’s great that ministers have listened and set out a clear route to reopen the live music industry."

Johnson said this plan would be England-wide, doing away with regional tiers, and "cautious but also irreversible", citing a need to restart the economy.

Progressing through the stages will depend on four tests: the continued success of the vaccine rollout, evidence the vaccines are reducing hospitalisations and deaths, avoiding a surge in hospitalisations that would pressure the NHS and, crucially, that there are no new variants that threaten this work.

Jon Morgan, Director of Theatres Trust, welcomed the roadmap towards reopening with social distancing and capacity limits.

"We want to play our part in helping keep people safe and we do not want to be in a situation where theatres reopen too early only to be forced to close again after a short period."

However, Morgan said he recognised any changes will be subject to reduced Covid-19 infections.

"We also recognise that this means that many theatres, who cannot operate viably with lower audiences under social distancing, will need to wait longer before reopening."

Josephine Burns, Chair of outdoor arts consortium Without Walls, appealed for clearer guidelines: "We are at a critical point in the development of our work and now need adequate notice and time to plan."

"We are confident that our events are viable, as safe as outdoor exercise, and can bring tremendous value to the health and wealth of our nation and wider economy.

"This year we are investing over £650,000 in our largest programme ever, to support artists to create and tour 20 new ambitious projects across the country. Without clear guidance for our industry, this network of events, experts and freelance workforce remains under threat."

Critical support

The roadmap still leaves much uncertainty as to when businesses will be able to reopen viably, leading to calls for further financial aid.

Johnson said announcements on further income and business support would be delivered in next week's Budget: "For the duration of the pandemic the Government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK."

Creative Industries Federation CEO Caroline Norbury said it was "vital" furlough, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) and tax reliefs are extended and that Government-backed insurance for live events is introduced.

"Support must also be guaranteed for the many who continue to fall through the gaps of existing schemes."

Morgan, of Theatres Trust, agreed, saying these schemes and the Cultural Recovery Fund have provided necessary support.

"We are pleased to hear that the Government is committed to continued support to protect jobs. It is important that this is targeted to reflect the differing realities for different sectors depending on where they are on the reopening roadmap."