The UK government has dealt a “hammer blow” to the nightlife industry with plans to only allow fully vaccinated people into nightclubs and crowded venues from September.
Remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England were lifted yesterday (19 July), meaning nightclubs were able to reopen for the first time since March 2020.
According to trade body UK Hospitality, 12,000 hospitality venues were finally able to reopen yesterday, as the sector was able to “operate viably” for the first time in 16 months.
However, in a televised address to the nation yesterday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “concerned” by the “continuing risk posed by nightclubs”.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said nightclubs and other similar venues could be “potential super-spreading events” because of crowds in close proximity.
Johnson said: “I don’t want to have to close nightclubs again – as they have elsewhere – but it does mean nightclubs need to do the socially responsible thing and make use of the NHS Covid Pass, which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry.
“As we said last week, we reserve the right to mandate certification at any point, if it is necessary to reduce transmission. And I should serve notice now that by the end of September – when all over 18s will have had the chance to be double jabbed – we are planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.
“Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient.”
Trade bodies and nightclub operators have strongly criticised the decision and highlighted the safety measures nightclubs are taking to keep patrons safe.
Peter Marks, CEO of nightclub operator Rekom UK, said: “To say we are disappointed by this government’s U-turn is an understatement. [Deputy chief medical officer] Jonathan Van Tam’s talk of his party in his garden shed shows how little this government and their scientists understand the modern club.
“Nightclubs have the best air ventilation systems in hospitality, retail and most other settings – with air changes on average every five minutes. Who else does that?
“We can sanitise and clean just like any other venue and there is no difference between a club and most pubs at midnight. It should be down to individual risk assessments in line with the specialist scientific advice we have received.
“We are no more than a political football. Mandatory Covid passports may make sense one day once the entire adult population has been offered vaccines, but does [the] government really think this threat will entice the ‘vaccine wary’ to take the vaccine? They will just stay later in the pubs and hold their parties in their houses.”
Trade body UK Hospitality described the news of the so-called ‘Covid passports’ as “devastating” for larger on-trade venues.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “Covid passports will be a costly burden that run the risk of creating flash points between staff and customers, as well as raising potential issues with equalities legislation and the handling of customer data.
“As recently as last week, the government asked us to work with them on a voluntary scheme, so this new policy is devastating and risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery and costing thousands of jobs.”
As the on-trade reopens at full capacity, the sector still faces mounting rent debts – an issue not only for the UK, but one affecting the industry worldwide.