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UK government working on 'realistic return date' and exploring insurance 'challenge'

We look at the state of the industry as the vaccine effort continues

The Garrick Theatre in the West End

Responding to The Times over the weekend, the UK government issued a statement of intent for the reopening of venues.

Rather than a firm schedule, the government pledged that it was looking for a "realistic return date" – which may be in line with the current tier restrictions currently in place and the ongoing vaccination process.

Almost 500,000 vaccines were administered yesterday alone, as the country pushes towards a target of 13 million jabs by mid-February. According to the NHS, over 6,000,000 doses have been given in total – with all but 440,000 of these being first doses, while second doses are likely to take place up to 12 weeks later. All of this is currently good news – the more vaccines administered, the closer the country can come to exploring easing restrictions.

The vaccination programme comes as producers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber warned The Times that an absence of direct support for commercial producers, particularly those in the West End, could mean investment goes overseas – at a time when Broadway venues and producers look set to benefit from a $15bn (£11bn) grant scheme for productions that were forced to close by the pandemic. Depending on the success of the vaccine scheme, Lloyd Webber will also decide next month whether or not to postpone his new Cinderella musical in the West End.

One piece of good news for some in the theatre community was the success of a landmark legal case regarding insurance pay-outs, which may give thousands of pounds to venues and companies affected by the first lockdown in March 2020. That does not mean that the issue of insurance has been solved however – as SOLT CEO Julian Bird explained in an interview earlier this month.

Also speaking in The Times, the government has recognised that the lack of insurance cover is a "barrier to restarting" – which hopefully means that it will work alongside private insurance companies to ameliorate circumstances. This might make producers feel more secure about reopening, even once the pandemic begins to subside and the risks fade away.

In interviews over the weekend, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he isn't keen on the introduction of "vaccine passports" – essentially giving those who have had a Covid vaccine the chance to either travel or attend events, whereas those who haven't may have to remain subject to restrictions. Large-scale testing may provide some solutions, though this has not yet been trialled with the new variant, which is said to be more transmittable than the old Covid variant.

All of this comes against a backdrop of a large portion of the country's freelance workforce unable to benefit from the government's self-employment support schemes, or seeing little from the Cultural Recovery Fund, a £1.57bn fund that has helped prop up companies and venues through loans and grants. Recently, the fund's terms have been altered so that resources can be used until June.

For now, at least, we have to wait.

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