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Planned easing of restrictions in English theatres to be delayed

The news was confirmed this morning by the BBC ahead of the Prime Minister's announcement

Empty seats

The BBC has stated that the current lockdown restrictions (including the ongoing capacity restrictions in theatres) will continue for four more weeks.

The decision has been signed off by senior ministers ahead of a 6pm address to the nation by Boris Johnson. Socially distanced performances will be able to continue under "Step Three" of the government's roadmap to reopening, with spectators sat in a socially distanced fashion (with a maximum capacity of 1000 individuals).

There may be new plans introduced including pilot schemes to test "Covid passports" (or similar certification) while some outlets have suggested that Johnson may bring the date forwards by two weeks if there is a clear decline in Covid cases.

Venue owner Andrew Lloyd Webber has appealed to the government to raise the permitted capacity of venues in conjunction with extra safety checks (including the aforementioned certification, which will be used for a number of international football matches over the coming weeks) to make performances more financially viable. Some tabloids are suggesting that such measures, particularly for outdoor venues, are being considered.

A variety of reports over the past few weeks have highlighted the fact that, with mask wearing and risk mitigation measures such as temperature checks or Covid status certification, auditoria can be safe environments. Furthermore, completed pilot test events (with augmented capacities) were said to have recorded few positive Covid results.

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan has responded to the four week delay to Step Four of the government's roadmap to easing lockdown: "Today's news of a four week delay to Step Four of the reopening roadmap is wholly understandable given the rise in infection numbers and the Delta variant. However, it will be difficult for theatres who were depending on being able to reopen at full capacity and will already have committed considerable resources in preparation without the safety net of a theatre sector insurance scheme.

"Although many theatres have temporarily reopened with reduced audiences, continuing to operate at significantly reduced capacity is economically unsustainable. Other venues that were planning to reopen when full audiences were permitted may be forced to cancel shows. It is vital that the additional £408m allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund in the Budget is distributed quickly and targeted to those organisations most impacted by this setback."

Plans revealed over the weekend suggested the government was close to signing off a new state-backed insurance scheme to aid live events interrupted by Covid disruption. Producers including Jersey Boys' Rosemary Squire, speaking to me this morning, said she'd welcome the plans – if they were actually confirmed.

We will naturally be covering all of the ongoing developments after this delay – in terms of rescheduled shows or new plans. Be sure to sign up to our newsletters for more.