London venues have slammed the Prime Minister’s decision to U-turn on plans to reopen tomorrow as “pulling the rug out” from underneath them.
In a press conference today, Boris Johnson said plans to reopen venues tomorrow will be pushed back until at least 15 August, following a sharp spike in coronavirus infections.
Night clubs, casinos, comedy clubs, and sports venues will now be forced to remain shuttered for at least a fortnight, following more than five months of closure during lockdown.
“We should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control,” said Johnson. “I’m really sorry about that but we simply cannot take the risk.”
Hollywood Bowl, the UK’s largest ten pin bowling operator with 60 venues across the country including in three in London, said the decision was “incredibly disappointing and unexpected”.
Chief executive Stephen Burns said: “There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that bowling is less safe than other activities which have been allowed to reopen and remain open.
“We have taken every possible precaution to make sure our customers can socially distance in our spacious centres with extensive hygiene protocols in place. To hear this news at the last minute is devastating for our team members and customers looking forward to returning.”
The move marks a sharp U-turn in plans to ease lockdown measures, following a heavy rise in infections across the country.
Official figures released today showed a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases across England for the first time since April.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there were around 4,200 new infections in the community per day between 20 July and 26 July.
Announcing the extension of lockdown measures today, Johnson said: “We just can’t afford to avoid this evidence.”
Brid Kirby, chair of the Live Comedy Association (LCA), told City A.M. he was “extremely frustrated” by the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“While public safety must remain the primary concern from the government, we are extremely frustrated by the announcement made with less than 24 hours notice.”
Comedy clubs had been given the green light to reopen tomorrow having remain closed since March, until the PM made the drastic decision to reverse plans this afternoon with just hours to go.
“This change shows a lack of understanding about how live comedy and the wider performing arts operate. The industry cannot begin to rebuild if guidance can change this last minute. This means more jobs and more income lost for the foreseeable future.”
A report released earlier this month by the LCA found that nearly 80 per cent of comedy clubs could shut permanently in the next year due to Covid-related closures.
One third of live comedy venues believe they will be forced to close in the next six months without business according to the survey, while almost 78 per cent say that they will be gone within a year.
Live performance venues have remained shuttered despite pubs and bars being allowed to reopen, over concerns that instruments, singing and loud music might exacerbate the spread of infection.
Ken Wright, managing director of the London’s Phoenix Arts Club in the West End, told City A.M. the PM’s decision “pulled the rug from under us”.
“[It is] with a heavy heart and a broken bank balance we must announce that we will remain closed until we are certain that indoor live performance is permitted.”
Wright joined a raft of venues blasting the government’s decision to U-turn at such short notice, but said the move will particularly affect ticketed venues.
“A ticketed industry requires at least a four week lead time and it is unacceptable to order us closed the day before reopening,” Wright said.
He added that unlike walk-in businesses such as bowling alleys and casinos, ticketed venues are legally obliged to refund customers for booked events.
The Phoenix Arts Club boss expressed concern at Johnson’s hesitance to provide a firm reopening date for venues to reopen. The PM said casinos, bowling alleys and sporting venues must stay shuttered until “at least 15 August”, and that the decision will be reviewed where appropriate.
“Today’s decision has left us uneasy about preparing for a reopening until the government can guarantee, rather than ‘consider’, a firm opening date,” said Wright.
London’s casinos today slammed the lockdown extension as “sickening”, warning that it would eat into already-precarious finances.
Simon Thomas, chief executive and owner of London’s Hippodrome Casino, told City A.M. he felt “somewhere between crying and being sick”.
“It’s appalling. We’re getting this news 12 hours from being allowed to reopen, when we’re fully ready to go,” said Thomas.
The Hippodrome Casino was opened in 2012 by then-mayor of London Boris Johnson, who described it as “yet another ringing endorsement of London as a great place to invest” and praised it for creating “hundreds of new jobs for the capital”.
Sarah Sculpher, chief marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment, which owns London’s Empire Casino in Leicester Square, said the announcement today “beggars belief”.
Sculpher told City A.M: “We’re just hugely disappointed. We were expecting perhaps that the Manchester casino might be closed down and a more regionalized approach would be taken.
“It just beggars belief really. All of the employees were brought back on Monday for training to go through all of the new protocols and the operational measures that we’ve put in place.”
Night clubs, casinos, comedy clubs and other night time venues make up the UK’s fifth-biggest industry, according to data from the Night Times Industries Association (NTIA).
Britain’s night time venues account for at least eight per cent of the UK’s employment and contribute annual revenues of more than £66bn.
And the high concentration of night time venues in the capital means today’s decision will likely affect London in particular.
London’s night time economy directly supports 723,000 jobs — one in eight in the capital, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said today’s swift U-turn “puts into sharp focus that things still won’t be returning to normal for some time.”
The mayor added that he has spoken to health secretary Matt Hancock about what the changes mean for London.
“It is now even more vital that Londoners continue to follow all the guidance and maintain social distancing at all times,” said Khan.
“The easing of lockdown was always dependent on ensuring we kept this virus under control and avoiding a second wave which would have devastating health, social and economic consequences for our city and country. It’s crucial that we all do what we can to avoid a second wave leading to another lockdown.”