Curbs on events and festivals in Scotland to be eased from mid-July and lifted from early August

Restrictions on live events and arts venues in Scotland are set to be eased by mid-July – and possibly lifted completely by early August.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 4:46 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 9:57 am

The controversial two metre distancing rule for theatres, comedy clubs and concert halls will be eased by 19 July under a proposed timetable set out by Nicola Sturgeon.

Outdoor events are also expected to go ahead without social distancing from that date, after the First Minister revealed people would no longer be asked to physically distance outdoors, although audiences will be capped until 9 August, when all restrictions on indoor gatherings are set to be lifted.

It is hoped that the whole country will be under Level 0 restrictions by mid-July, which will allow indoor events for up to 400 people to happen at one metre distancing and crowds of up to 2000 people to attend outdoor events.

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However a spokeswoman for the government said applications could be made to local authorities for special permission for events with larger audiences.The easing of restrictions on indoor and outdoor events is a huge boost for events like the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, which are due to get underway on 6 August, and Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival, which is planned to be held from 10-12 September.

An official reopening date of 17 May for venues and live events was first set out by the Scottish Government in mid-March. But when the reopening guidelines were published in late-April industry leaders discovered they were much stricter than for hospitality businesses.

Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said: “It’s hugely uplifting to see that the Scottish Government has listened to the collective voice of the culture sector and has gone ahead in making the social distancing guidelines fairer for all.“The decision means that operators can now plan, prepare and start the difficult road to recovery. Our priority now will be in supporting Fringe producers and artists to deliver the best festival that we can in the time we have left and to ensure our Covid mitigation plan is rolled out effectively and safely.

“We will also keep using our voice to champion the arts in Scotland We all know culture will have a vital part to play in Scotland’s recovery.”

The Tron Theatre had previously complained that it would have to limit audience numbers to between 10 and 14 under the Scottish Government's reopening restrictions. Picture: John Johnston

Edinburgh’s festivals issued a joint statement last week calling for the Scottish Government to “eliminate the anomalies” in its social distancing guidelines, saying it was “beyond credibility" that live events with Covid mitigations posed a greater risk to public health than what going to pubs, restaurants, shops and sporting events.

Festivals Edinburgh director Julia Amour said: “The First Minister's statement is an important step forward for the live events sector and it is a relief that the Scottish Government has now chosen to listen to the many voices asking them to deal with anomalies in the current distancing guidelines.

"Although such anomalies will not be eliminated for another month, the clear timetable makes us more optimistic and means we can now focus on delivering a safe and exciting restart to Edinburgh’s festivals this summer, while also working to help secure the long-term future of our culture and live events sectors as an essential part of national recovery.”

Leading performing arts venues joined last month to plea for the two metre rule to be relaxed, claiming that they were preventing 98 per cent of operators from reopening.

A view of the auditorium at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh.

Linda Crooks, executive producer at the Traverse Theatre, said the First Minister’s announcement was “more positive than anticipated.”

She added: “We’re entering a period of recovery where we will carefully have to manage risk as we reopen.

"This roadmap is very helpful and moves us in the right direction so we are cautiously optimistic, but also aware there are details to understand and interrogate before we can commit to longer term planning with absolute confidence.”

However Andy Arnold, artistic director at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, said: “One metre social distancing from 19 July doesn’t really change anything for us as it still keeps our audiences down to a third of capacity and it would be impossible to plan any events at such short notice.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre has built an outdoor amphitheatre to ensure it can stage live shows this summer.

"What is more encouraging is the possibility of normal seating returning from 9th August.

"However, we’re told that there will be an update on that nearer the time, which stops us from making definite plans at this stage and delays the time when we know we will be able to open up again with normal seating and normal staging. Nonetheless we are cautiously optimistic that the end of this nightmare is in sight.”

Glasgow-based music promoter and venue operator Donald MacLeod said: “The news that there’s now an indicative date when all remaining indoor and outdoor restrictions are hoped to be lifted is of course very welcome.

"However the fact that there is no mention of our sector, or nightclubs and gigs, are within the government’s revised strategic framework worries me. I can’t help feeling more bad news is on its way.”

The Scottish Tourism Alliance said it was disappointed that there would be no easing of Covid restrictions until well into the school holidays.

However chief executive Marc Crothall added: “The announcement that Scotland will move to level 0 on the provisional date of 19 July is welcome relief for the sector and indeed the supply chain, as is the confirmation of the indicative date of 9 August for moving beyond level 0.

"This target date will give the tourism industry a welcome boost, particularly the sectors which have been impacted so significantly by physical distancing rules.”

A spokeswoman for national arts agency Creative Scotland said: “The ongoing impact of the pandemic on Scotland’s culture sector cannot be underestimated and we continue to deliver significant emergency funding support to help address that impact.

“We welcome the review of current social distancing restrictions and will continue to work closely with the government to support culture in Scotland through this extremely difficult time, in line with public health advice.”

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Neil McIntosh