U.K. Introduces Vaccine Passports for Clubs and Venues

LONDON – New restrictions for nightclubs and music venues in England have been introduced to tackle a sharp rise in cases of the coronavirus omicron variant. Members of Parliament backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial ‘Plan B’ measures on Tuesday (Dec. 14), with 369 MPs voting in favor of making COVID-19 vaccine passports a legal requirement to enter clubs and some concert halls, versus 126 against.

The rules come into force on Wednesday, meaning that people aged over 18 in England will need to show they’ve either had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine or proof of a negative test taken in the past 48 hours to enter a number of music venues, including nightclubs and indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people.

Proof of vaccine status via an NHS Covid Pass is also needed for unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue (indoor or outdoor) with more than 10,000 people. Similar Covid passport schemes are already in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

MPs also voted to back compulsory face masks in most indoor settings in England, although this rule doesn’t apply to nightclubs and music venues.

“We can’t eliminate the risk of COVID-19 but we can reduce it, and these proposals offer a pragmatic way of doing this,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid in the House of Commons ahead of the vote. Javid said the regulations “would make some of the most potentially high-risk environments even safer” and would be reviewed on Jan. 5.

Almost 100 Conservative MPs rebelled against their own party and voted in opposition to vaccine passes. The government originally announced it would be making vaccine passports a legal entry requirement for English venues and nightclubs in July, but then scrapped the plans several months later because of high vaccination levels and new coronavirus treatments.

That optimism is now rapidly fading following the emergence of the omicron variant. On Monday, there were 4,713 confirmed cases of omicron in the U.K. reported as well as the first death connected with the variant. The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates the true number of daily infections is much higher at around 200,000.

According to the latest data, nearly 47 million people in the U.K. have had both vaccine doses, equivalent to 81% of the adult population. The government has committed to offer booster jabs to all adults who want one by the end of December.

The introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and music venues has been fiercely opposed by the live music and entertainment sector due to the logistical challenges they pose for businesses and the negative impact they have on footfall. According to the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), trade in Scottish venues and clubs fell by 30% following their implementation on Oct. 1. In Wales, business was down 26%, the organization says.

“These additional restrictions will jeopardise the survival of businesses in 2022,” said NTIA CEO Michael Kill in response to Tuesday’s vote. “Our members have supported the national pandemic effort for over two years, closing when they were asked, limiting trade, working with guidelines which took investment on new mitigations and training to be able to open there [sic] doors, and keep customers and staff safe,” said Kill, calling for “urgent additional support” for the sector.

The new measures come at a pivotal time for U.K. grassroots music venues, which have seen attendance drop by 23% and revenue go down 27% in the six days since the government announced its Plan B restrictions, according to research by the Music Venue Trust.

Of 284 venue owners the trust surveyed, 61% said they had to cancel at least one event between Dec. 6-13 because of poor sales, a member of the touring party testing positive for COVID-19 or canceled bookings. Advance ticket sales have fallen by 27% due to declining consumer confidence, says the organization, which puts total losses across the sector at almost £2 million.

The Music Venue Trust is calling for the government to immediately create a “ring-fenced stabilisation fund” to protect grassroots live businesses.

“This is the busiest time of the year for grassroots music venues,” says Beverley Whitrick, strategic director at the trust. “Losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained without throwing hundreds of music venues into crisis mode and at risk of permanent closure.”

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