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ITV Goes Ahead with ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’ Studio Audience Amid Coronavirus Outbreak (EXCLUSIVE)

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U.K. broadcaster ITV is moving ahead with plans to shoot “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway” with a live studio audience, despite the country’s accelerating outbreak.

The decision follows a day of emergency meetings by ITV bosses, who have been weighing options — including shooting without an audience — for Saturday night’s live taping of the variety show, which hosts more than 200 guests and is understood to be fully booked.

The decision was made the same day the broadcaster sent a memo to in-house producers stating it is “assessing all productions” and the “preferred option” is for producers to move ahead on shows without audiences, in accordance with commissioning networks.

An ITV spokesperson told Variety: “Our priority is the well-being and safety of all our people and everyone who works with us on our shows and across our business. We are in a developing and dynamic situation so we’re complying with the guidance from Public Health England and the World Health Organization to make sure we keep everyone as safe and secure as possible.

“All of our audience-handling agencies are sharing the updated advice from the NHS site with audiences prior to attending our shows and we continue to work with them to update advice as and when it changes.”

One of the commercial broadcaster’s most popular programs, “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway” is hosted by Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly and shoots at the BBC Television Centre in London. The current 16th season of the show, which debuted in late February, returned to air after a two-year hiatus following McPartlin’s drunk-driving arrest in 2018.

“Saturday Night Takeaway” contains both live and pre-recorded elements, and generally includes a strong audience interaction element at some point during the show in addition to various stunts, games and celebrity guests. ITV will need to further consider its options around how to go out with “Takeaway” in the weeks ahead when the coronavirus pandemic is expected to worsen in the U.K. The show’s finale is meant to shoot at Disneyworld in Florida — a plan that is highly unlikely at this point.

Currently, the U.K. government has not imposed a gatherings ban, although such a directive is expected if the outbreak worsens.

Positive cases spiked dramatically between Thursday and Friday, with positive cases rising from 590 to 798. Officials made the shock move Friday afternoon of delaying mayoral and local elections for one years due to the outbreak.

Compared to other European countries, the outbreak of coronavirus has been slow to reach the U.K., which has only begun ramping up its response to the virus in earnest this week. COVID-19 has so far claimed 10 lives. Health officials have said up to 10,000 people could be impacted.

Broadcasters and streamers are now grappling with strategies to fight the outbreak. Viacom U.K. has required all employees to work from home beginning Monday, while Comcast-backed pay-TV operator Sky is also trialling work-from-home measures. Amazon U.K. staff will be required to work from home until the end of the month, as per a directive out of the U.S. Meanwhile, the BBC has opted to continue with live tapings with BBC Broadcasting House still fully operational, while Netflix U.K. offices are also still open for business.