Theatres will not find out before November when they can reopen without social distancing, the culture secretary has said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Oliver Dowden said indoor performances without social distancing could resume only when it was “safe to do so” and that information on when this will be possible would be given in November.
Theatres and arts organisations have repeatedly called on the government to give a ‘no earlier’ than date for when organisations can reopen their doors without social distancing in place, warning it would not be economically viable to open with such measures.
Last week, Andrew Lloyd Webber urged Boris Johnson to provide clarity and offer a date for reopening, as pantomime producers warned they needed to know by the beginning of August whether they could go ahead or else could face financial ruin.
Dowden said: “I completely understand the desire for that [date]. The prime minister said a couple of weeks ago [that] when we get to November we will look again at social distancing and where we are with the virus.”
He added: “We can’t give a stronger commitment than that because, as we are seeing, the virus is rising in other countries around the world, the risk remains heightened and it is not the case now that we can move to ease social distancing. We are having to work hard to keep this virus under control and as soon as we can give that assurance, we will give it to people. But we are not in that place at the moment.”
When pressed on a date, he said he would make the decision as “rapidly as we can" but said the virus was “far from defeated”.
“I don’t want to give people false hope. I have set out this five-stage roadmap and we will have indoor performers with social distancing from the beginning of August, and we have outdoor performances happening already and we will be conducting pilots for indoor performances. But we can only give guidance to resume performances without social distancing when it is safe to do so and the prime minister has indicated that will be November at the earliest.”
Dowden also addressed the £1.57 billion rescue package announced earlier this month, for which further details on how funding will be allocated was announced earlier this week.
He said: “We are launching this scheme today, putting out the guidelines and will be allocating the vast majority of it over the summer. If institutions are in a situation where they need money more rapidly than that, we will make resources available if they are literally on the verge of going under. We are working with other organisations such as Arts Council England to get that emergency support in.”