Theatres have been ordered to close tonight (March 20) to fight the spread of coronavirus, prime minister Boris Johnson has said.
While the majority of British theatres have already shut their doors, the move marks an escalation of the government’s measures, which had previously only advised the public not to attend rather than explicitly telling venues themselves to close.
It means that any theatre still in operation – along with pubs, restaurants, cinemas and gyms – must close immediately and not open tomorrow.
In a press conference, Johnson said: “These are places where people come together, and the whole purpose of these businesses is to bring people together, but the sad thing is, today, for now, we need to keep people apart.”
He said the decision had been “a huge wrench” and acknowledged that it would be “heartbreaking” for businesses.
Johnson said the government would review the situation “each month” to assess whether the measures could be relaxed.
Responding, a spokesperson for the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre said: “The government’s announcement gives the theatre industry the clarity SOLT and UK Theatre have been lobbying for, We will be studying the details when we receive them, and continue to ask for a clearer time frame for theatre closures.”
In light of government advice earlier this week, SOLT and UK Theatre announced the closure of all of its member venues, which total more than 250. However, theatres and industry figures expressed their concern at the government’s lack of clarity around closures.
Many warned that the industry could be crippled by a loss of audience but that crucial insurance claims would be invalid without clear instruction to close.
Entertainment lawyer Neil Adleman told The Stage he feared that the previous government advice could give insurers an excuse not to pay out, although this was disputed by the Association of Business Insurers.