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Theatres in England to reopen in tier one and two areas in December – tier three venues to remain closed

The new rules have been confirmed today

A man, alone, in an auditorium

Theatres in select parts of England will be able to reopen from 2 December in line with new tier guidance set out by the UK government.

Largely described as a "tougher" version of the tier system seen earlier this autumn, any venue placed in "tier three" (the very high alert band) will not be able to stage shows in front of live audiences (though live-streamed productions will be permitted, as has been the case throughout November).

The tier system was first announced back in September, with varied restrictions in place depending on the rate of infection. Those with a higher rate of infection have more stringent rules, whereas rules are eased in areas with fewer reported cases.

Venues in tier one and tier two areas will still have to abide by social distancing and risk mitigation rules. What is perhaps galling is that, while venues in the old tier three areas were able to open, they are no longer able to do so – while spaces such as gyms or beauty salons will be able to once more open their doors in tier three. In tiers one and two, there will be capacity restrictions in place that mean a maximum of either 50 per cent of conventional capacity or 1000 audience members will be able to watch shows (whichever is the lowest).

It is not yet known which areas will be in each tier

What tier different areas fall into will not be confirmed until Thursday, and will be decided based on the most recent local data. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech virtually beamed into the House of Commons that, unfortunately, he expects "more regions will form into the higher tiers than before", though tabloid reports are suggesting that the capital will be in the middle tier. There will be no fluctuation in rules for tier three areas as had been the case in the former tier system.

Many shows are gearing up for their panto season, with a multitude of West End productions also ready to be performed to socially distanced audiences. You can check out what's on offer in our festive guide. The lockdown status in different areas will be reviewed every two weeks – so some areas may slip from tier two into tier three with less notice, while others may move out of tier three into tier two.

Johnson sounded a note of optimism around recent strides in vaccine revelations. "The scientific cavalary is in sight...the whole of concept of a Covid lockdown will be redundant." While Johnson's plans have to be confirmed through a vote in the House of Commons.

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Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said: "Today's announcement of new restrictions for performing arts venues in all tiers has shaken an already fragile sector. Closure of venues in tier 3 areas will mean cancellation of pantos and other shows, risking organisations' long-term survival and leaving theatre freelancers adrift with no compensation. The capacity constraints in tiers 1 and 2 will lead to financial problems for venues and disappointment for audiences. It is unclear why these have been instituted in a sector with no known spread of the virus. As ever, we remain committed to working with Government to secure the survival of our world-leading theatre sector."