Two metre social distancing imposed on Scottish venues as 'reopening' date is confirmed

The Scottish Government has refused to relax plans to impose two metre social distancing on arts venues – despite warnings they will make live events financially unviable.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 1:34 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 6:10 pm

Concert halls, theatres and comedy clubs have been given the green light to bring audiences back from Monday.

But they are facing much harsher restrictions than venues south of the border, which are able to operate at half their normal capacity from the same date.

Pubs and restaurants in Scotland, which will be allowed to serve alcohol indoors from Monday, secured the 1m concession from the Scottish Government last summer.

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However, event organisers and venues may have to wait for another three weeks for the results of a wide-ranging review of social distancing measures to be completed.

Ms Sturgeon said it may be possible for the rules governing the events sector to be “relaxed” before then.

She said a further £40 million of financial support would be made available to help the cultural sector cope with the impact of the pandemic.

The announcement was made the day after Scottish theatres joined forces to plead with the government to rethink the 2m restriction after 96 per cent of venue operators said it would not be viable for them to open.

The Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) in Scotland has warned the country’s creative and cultural sectors are facing “a lost future” if they are left lagging behind England.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Over the next three weeks, we will be assessing physical distancing more generally and whether or not the current guidance for places like theatres can be relaxed at all.

“We’ll set out the conclusions of that at the next review point. I cannot be certain, but I would hope that over that kind of timescale we will see an easing of the current position, which will should help venues like theatres more than is the situation initially.

“If it is possible over the next few weeks to relax the current rules and guidance on this, we will certainly do so.”

Leith Theatre has been closed completely to the public since last March. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Asked why different reopening rules were in place in Scotland and England, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m the First Minister of Scotland. I have to take decisions that I think are right for Scotland.

“England has its own government to take those decisions. I will continue to take decisions that I think are as safe as possible and will get us through this as safely as possible.

“Physical distancing is not something any of us want to see for longer than necessary.

“But if we don’t have any physical distancing and there are outbreaks and those outbreaks seed wider community transmission very soon, it won’t be a situation where a pub, restaurant or theatre has reduced capacity, they will very quickly have to be closed again all together.

The Tron Theatre in Glasgow is among the Scottish theatres to have campaigned against the 2m rule. Picture: John Johnston

“There are no magic solutions to this. We have to manage our way through this carefully and cautiously.

“We’re making really good progress, but the worst thing we could do now is throw all caution to the wind.”

The Scottish Government has set out “standard” audience limits for venues and festivals, although organisers can apply for permission for bigger crowds.

Venues on mainland Scotland are able to open from Monday for audiences of up to 100 indoors, while audiences of up to 500 will be allowed at outdoor events.

In island communities, which will move to level one from Monday, audiences of up to 200 will be allowed indoors and 1,000 will be allowed outdoors.

At level zero, which most of Scotland is expected to reach next month, standard indoor and outdoor crowd limits will be capped at 400 and 2,000 respectively.

The SSE Hydro in Glasgow was the world's second busiest entertainment venue before the pandemic forced it to close last March. Picture: Luke Dyson

James Mackenzie-Blackman, chief executive of Eden Court in Inverness, which is planning to revive its outdoor festival Under Canvas in July, said: “My main takeaway is that the First Minister is clearly listening and understanding the pressure we are under.

“Increasing upper capacities though has little impact without a review of the physical distancing and a clear route map for the recovery of the performing arts sector.

"We are ready and willing to work with colleagues in the new government to put in place the conditions to reopen the sector safely.”

Andy Arnold, artistic director at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, and one of the most outspoken critics of the 2m rule, said: “Theatres can now open up to 100 people, except with the 2m distance rule we will all remain shut.

"Let’s hope that common sense prevails when the situation is reviewed during the next three weeks and we can start to make coherent plans.”

The NTIA is demanding the Scottish Government provide an “end date” for the lifting of restrictions, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed plans to end limits on social contact in England on June 21 were on track.

Up to 39,000 jobs are said to be at risk in Scotland within weeks if the current curbs are kept in place.

NTIA Scotland chair Mike Grieve said: “As our neighbours south of the border prepare to unlock and remove all restrictions within the coming weeks, we remain stuck in perpetual limbo with still no indicative date for reopening or even an outline of the conditions which will allow nightlife to restart.

“We again ask the Scottish Government to work with us directly and urgently on establishing a constructive path towards the unrestricted reopening of the culturally important and economically valuable night time economy sector and to save the thousands of jobs currently at risk.”

Glasgow-based music promoter Donald MacLeod said: “There seems to be no end in sight to these business-crippling restrictions.

"There is still no lifting of social distancing restrictions for theatres, concert halls and other live venues and sadly, as expected, absolutely nothing of note for the night-time economy sector to celebrate

“We are still treated with disdain and wrongly judged to be the modern day plague carriers and the super-spreaders of Covid.”

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The King's Theatre in Edinburgh is due to reopen to the public in July.