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Industry welcomes latest relaxation of COVID rules, but insists further government support is needed

By | Published on Tuesday 22 February 2022


The UK government yesterday formally announced the end of all remaining COVID restrictions in England. That move has been generally welcomed by the live music sector, though with the proviso that further government support for the industry will still be required. Some have also expressed concern that free COVID testing will be phased out from the start of April.

As expected, the government has confirmed that, from Thursday this week, the requirement for those who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate will simply become guidance, while those who have come into close contact with the virus who are vaccinated will no longer need to take daily COVID tests for the following week.

It’s all part of Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson’s new “living with COVID” plan which, like most of the PM’s strategies, is based on that solid political theory that if everyone can just remain really optimistic, it will probably all turn out fine.

And – of course – if you make it harder for everyone to test whether they have COVID-19, it’s much easier to be in denial about the continued presence of the virus in wider society.

Even though with the further relaxation of COVID rules, arguably it’s more important than ever for people to do a COVID test when attending crowded events or coming into close contact with anyone who is clinically vulnerable. Those who are clinically vulnerable should still be able to access free tests after 1 Apr, though that’s not really the point, is it?

With that in mind, it’s been pointed out that – while it’s hoped that the further relaxation of COVID rules will help speed up the return to something nearing normal for the live sector – those in the music community who are clinically vulnerable will still likely need to avoid crowded venues and such like.

Indeed, that will become even more important as the official line for the population at large is that it’s now fine to be slack about COVID-19. All of which means, those people will still need government support.

Plus, of course, even once festivals, venues and other night-time businesses are back to full operations at full capacity, those companies still face many challenges after two years of lockdowns, cancellations and extra logistics. To that end, the live industry is still calling for extended and extra support schemes from the government.

All of these points were raised by reps of the music industry when responding to the government’s confirmation about its “living with COVID” plan yesterday.

The CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, David Martin, said: “The removal of restrictions signals another step towards some normality for the music industry, however we remain concerned about artists and others in the sector who are clinically vulnerable and unable to return to live activity. Government must do more to support those who cannot work by extending access to COVID crisis funding to clinically vulnerable freelancers”.

“Our sector has published best practice guidance for making live activity as safe as possible”, he added. “It encourages artists, crew and fans to take lateral flow tests, so today’s news that access to free tests is to be scrapped is completely counter productive in our efforts to keep live music open. Evidence of a negative test still represents the best method of ensuring events operate safely and we would encourage their use even when not mandated”.

Greg Parmley, CEO of live sector trade group LIVE, said: “The end of COVID-19 restrictions represents a huge, welcome relief to the live music sector, which lost billions in revenue throughout the pandemic. But with spiralling costs and thousands of companies struggling with pandemic debt, it’s crucial that government does not abandon and set the sector adrift, just as it starts to tread water again”.

“We are calling for a reverse to the planned hike in VAT rates and the imminent end to business rates relief in order to avoid further business closures and job losses within our sector”, he added.

And Paul Reed, CEO of the Association Of Independent Festivals, said: “While we welcome legal restrictions around COVID-19 coming to an end and the prospect of a full capacity festival season, the effects of the pandemic are still being felt by the independent festival sector and the need for government action remains. With festival organisers facing crippling cost increases of up to 30% across operations and infrastructure, this is not back to business as usual for festivals, and it is not a case of ‘job done’ for ministers”.

“AIF reiterates its call”, he added, “for ongoing support from government in the form of continued VAT relief on festival tickets, to maintain the current reduced 12.5% rate on tickets beyond the end of March; and to also explore some form of government-backed loan scheme for suppliers to alleviate some of these pressures and encourage investment in the festival supply chain”.

Those calls were also echoed by Greg Marshall, General Manager of the Association For Electronic Music, who said: “AFEM welcomes the end of all legal COVID-19 regulations and the move to guidance announced in the UK today. However, the fragility of the chain of businesses and individuals which make up the electronic music club and events ecosystem needs to be recognised. Ongoing support measures will be required to ensure the recovery of this sector, in parallel with industry action to build consumer confidence and ensure a return of audience numbers to all event types in the long term”.

Reps from the Night Time Industries Association and Music Venues Trust had already spoken about the latest changes to COVID rules after they were previewed by ministers over the weekend.