Will Edinburgh Fringe Festival happen in 2021? If arts festival will go ahead in August after Covid lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon has said the date of Freedom Day can’t be ‘set in stone’ amid surging infection rates in Scotland

Friday, 9th July 2021, 5:25 pm
Will Edinburgh Festival Fringe go ahead in 2021? (Shutterstock)

Edinburgh Festival Fringe is set to return this August after the capital’s famous event was cancelled last year in the wake of the pandemic.

The city’s streets remained eerily empty in 2020 instead of boasting the usual vibrant performers, pop-up bars and food stalls and comedy venues.

But as the Scottish Government gradually eases Covid lockdown rules, with the aim of scrapping all remaining legal restrictions on so-called “Freedom Day” on 9 August, organisers of the world’s biggest arts festival have been able to plan for its return.

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However, there are fears about rising infection rates in Scotland, with two more hospitals declaring “code black” and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggesting lockdown easing could be delayed.

So, will Edinburgh Festival Fringe go ahead in August?

Here’s what we know so far.

What are the plans for Edinburgh Fringe this year?

Current plans are for the Fringe to return on 6 August 2021, running until the end of the month.

The Fringe will feature a mix of in-person and virtual shows, and some of the classic venues, including the Traverse Theatre, Summerhall, Gilded Balloon and the Pleasance, have confirmed they will host a programme of events.

Many performances will take place in custom-made outdoor venues to provide extra ventilation, and indoor venues will limit audience numbers to ensure social distancing.

On the Royal Mile, there will be open-air auditoriums with fixed audience numbers and other measures like one-way systems.

Street entertainers will also return to the Royal Mile to the delight of revellers.

And all shows are to comply with the council and government Covid regulations at the time.

Tickets went on sale for around 170 shows last week and further tickets will become available in the coming weeks.

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Will Edinburgh Fringe take place in 2021?

However, new doubt has been cast on the Fringe by the government amid increasing infection rates - nearly 4,000 a day - in Scotland.

With less than a month before the festival is scheduled to start, Ms Sturgeon has suggested that the lifting of Covid restrictions on 9 August could be delayed.

Speaking at her press briefing on Thursday (8 July), she said the scrapping of remaining rules on “Freedom Day” was not “set in stone”.

“Nothing, against a global pandemic of an infectious virus that has got more infectious and transmissible with the Delta variant, can be set in stone,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“I want as much as everybody does the certainty of [saying] ‘by this date we will be free of everything and there will no longer be any restrictions’.

“Every part of me wants that and every part of me believes we are on a journey towards that and heading in that direction.

“But to set dates in stone while we still face that virus would not in my view be responsible.”

Ms Sturgeon added that, even with the vaccine weakening the link between cases and hospitalisations, the surging infection rate could put too much pressure on the NHS.

The SNP leader is scheduled to recall the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday (13 July) to outline her next steps in the country’s roadmap out of lockdown.

She is expected to confirm whether more areas of Scotland will move to Level 0 on 19 July, and whether any further lifting of measures will happen after that.

Many will be hoping that the announcement brings clarity on whether Fringe events and programmes can go ahead.