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The end of restrictions and free Covid testing pose challenges for workforce safety and encouraging cautious customers back.

Equity is asking its members to continue enforcing mask wearing

The Government's Living with Covid plan is likely to deter a "significant minority" of theatre audiences and present obstacles to ensuring performers' safety.

Mandatory self-isolation for positive cases ends next week and free testing will be scaled back from April 1, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (February 21), raising questions about what practices will prevail in the cultural sector.

Businesses are expected to cover costs if they want workers to continue testing while employees will choose whether to isolate if they have Covid, according to Business Minister Paul Scully. 


ArtsProfessional is aware of theatres that are struggling to retain staff who feel their safety is being compromised. The Incorporated Society of Musicians on Monday said testing is still needed, and that performers and staff should be able to work in a safe environment.

Performers' union Equity said it expects its members to continue to enforce mask wearing and testing and "actively dissuade anyone from attempting to work when sick". 

"It is in no-one’s interests to race to dismantle protocols that have, however imperfectly, allowed the industry to rebuild and our members’ return to work."

New research from audience behaviour analysts Purple Seven and researchers Morris Hargreaves McIntyre shows more theatre patrons think a 'return to normal' is likely by the end of 2022 than at Christmas - 52% compared to 25% last year.

But nearly a fifth of audiences said they wouldn't come back to theatres until either they are confident there are no negative effects of reopening, or the virus is "under complete control".

The findings echo those from the Insights Alliance, which estimated a fifth of audiences won't return without Covid safety measures in place.

Early findings from a second wave of research suggest this has not shifted: "As those measures will inevitably become harder to enforce over time, an increased focus on reaching and retaining new audiences becomes ever more important,” Robin Cantrill-Fenwick, Chief Executive of alliance member Baker Richards commented.

Purple Seven Managing Director David Brownlee said this "substantial minority" is worrisome, especially as they are not just older audiences.

"Arts organisations need to consider how best to encourage these customers back to their venue, or how best to continue to serve them through digital content."

Pass or fail?

Audiences will no longer need to produce Covid passes at venues from April 1.

Unions were quiet on the once divisive issue of vaccine passports. However, in Purple Seven's research, 30% of respondents said Covid passes should be compulsary for theatre attendance and a futher 30% "tended to agree". 

"Performing arts venues still remain keener than UK Governments to implement mandatory vaccine passports," Medwen Roberts, Director at Morris Hargreaves McIntyre said.

"Venues would be wise to continue to demonstrate how seriously they take the safety of their customers.”

Equity's Deaf and Disabled Members Committee said keeping saftey measures will help protect the clinically vulnerable and give audiences confidence to return to live events.

YouGov polling last week indicated 83% of people believe free testing should stay. 66% wanted some restrictions to remain, and 70% supported mandatory self-isolation.

Budget needed

Associations urged the Government to abandon plans to end VAT and business rates relief, saying it risks "choking off" the sector's fragile recovery.

UK Music and the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) were among those who called for ongoing support.

NTIA CEO Michael Kill said the end of domestic restrictions is welcome, "but we cannot lose sight of the short term role that the Government must continue to play in supporting the sector, beginning with the Chancellor’s Budget in March".
“The extension of VAT & Business rates relief remains a key ask, allowing businesses the financial headroom to survive on this long road to recovery.”
Kill added that businesses remain in a precarious position and a future support package should recognise that.

"This is a sector that has sacrificed more than just about any other part of the economy, and it seems right that continued support is commensurate with the scale of hit that we took during the pandemic.”