Theatres in England will be able to operate without social distancing or masks and at full capacity from July 19, prime minister Boris Johnson announced today – though it won’t be confirmed until July 12. The announcement followed the government’s one-month delay on the lifting of restrictions – step four of its “roadmap” – originally expected on June 21. He told a press conference: “We must be honest with ourselves: if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when will we be able to return to normal?” While legal restrictions will be removed on July 19, the prime minister made it clear he expects businesses, theatres and individuals to be responsible for their own safety in theatres, on public transport and at sporting events among other public gatherings. Wearing a mask in public would still be a recommended choice rather than a requirement, especially in close situations. The prime minister also confirmed that a vaccination certificate would not be required to enter venues or events, even though Covid variants are being detected in increasing numbers. The announcement will be welcomed by most theatres and nightclubs, restaurants and night-economy businesses, many of which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus closures. But in expectation of the cessation of restrictions last month, many theatres have already resumed some performances, and some have announced, or are in the process of finalising, summer and autumn seasons. Regional and repertory theatres will welcome the chance to resume full-capacity operations, but tour producers are hoping for greater guarantees – especially a government-backed theatre insurance scheme announced, but not confirmed, by culture secretary Oliver Dowden last week. The scheme is expected to be available as a last-resort guarantee by July 19 – commercial insurance will still be the government's preferred option. Without insurance, venues risk being shut down if cases are discovered, losing large amounts of uninsured takings.
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