Rethink ordered on two metre social distancing for Scotland’s theatres, concert halls and comedy clubs

Controversial new guidelines which will force Scotland’s arenas, concert halls and comedy clubs to impose two metre social distancing on audiences are to be reviewed in the wake of warnings they will force most venues to remain closed.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 10:19 am
The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh is due to reopen to the public in June.
The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh is due to reopen to the public in June.

The Scottish Government is to rethink the proposed curbs, which are due to take effect from the middle of next month, after being told the new rules would lead to permanent closure of venues and widespread job losses over the next few months.

The government has faced a barrage of criticism over the prospect of two metre social distancing having to be in place over the summer, when hospitality and tourism businesses have been allowed to reopen this week with one metre social distancing in place.

Civil servants are expected to be sent back to the drawing board to come up with new guidance which will allow indoor venues to open on a financially viable basis by July, when all adults in Scotland are expected to have been offered the vaccine.

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The Usher Hall in Edinburgh has been closed since last March.

It is thought that new guidelines will see venues able to gradually increase the capacity of audiences over the summer.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said she had “intervened” after the publication of the long-awaited guidance, which said that exceptions to the two metre rule would only be made for “internationally significant” events.

She suggested that further financial help for venues could be found to help venues bring back audiences while some restrictions remained in place.

The intervention emerged just over 24 hours after the publication of the new guidance, which envisages events for up to 400 indoors and 2000 outdoors in June.

However Andy Arnold, artistic director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, who has led criticism of the new guidelines, told how he would only be able to allow 10 people inside his 230-seater auditorium.

Posting on Twitter, Ms Hyslop said: “For those contacting me re how culture venues can viably, safely re-open through the levels, I have intervened and government officials are working on providing detailed guidance to help a route map back considering social distancing and capacity in particular, an will work fully with the sector.

"This has to be worked through with public health experts reflecting the current and anticipated Covid situation, as we look forward to theatres and other venues re-opening.

"Scottish Government officials are also looking at what financial support can be provided.”

Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, organisers of the TRNSMT and Summer Sessions festivals, said: “Hopefully ministers are now taking notice and instructing the officials to sort out this current inertia and make a sensible, meaningful plan for removing social distancing.”

Mr Arnold said: I wasn't expecting any politician to respond in the election campaign so this is encouraging.

“I know Fiona Hyslop cares passionately about Scottish theatre and she must be well aware of the dire situation we are all facing with these unworkable restrictions.

"Let's hope a resolution is now found so we can open our theatres again and get back to work.”

David Greig, artistic director at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, said: “All of us want to get back to work as soon as we can.

"We’re confident the Scottish Government supports culture and we’re looking forward to finding a solution as soon as possible.

"At the current distancing proposals it's not possible for us to open, so we can’t plan. There’s a danger of reaching the latter part of the year and nothing happening.

“If it’s not safe for us to open we will need continued support to get us through yet more months of disruption.”

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