Cinemas and theaters across England will return to full capacity from July 19, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.
In addition, live events such as sports and concerts will be allowed to operate as in pre-COVID times at capacity and the one meter social distancing rule will be scrapped. People in England will no longer be legally required to wear masks, including in crowded spaces, but the government will provide health and safety advice.
Nightclubs can reopen and pubs and restaurants are no longer required to serve only seated customers, who also don’t have to check in with their contact details before being seated. The government’s earlier directive on people working from home will no longer apply, but it is up to individual businesses to address the matter with their staff.
“This pandemic is far from over,” Johnson said, addressing a press conference. “It certainly won’t be over by the 19th, and we must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from COVID.”
“We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal?, Johnson added. “And to those who say we should delay again. The alternative to that is to open up in winter when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year.”
The entertainment industry, especially the crippled theater segment, has welcomed the move.
Society of London Theater and U.K. Theater chief executive Julian Bird said: “We welcome today’s confirmation that July 19 will see the lifting of remaining lockdown restrictions – meaning that theaters can open to full audiences for the first time in 16 months. This is a lifeline for our industry, essential for the survival of theaters across the country. We will be working closely with government in the coming days on revising the performing arts guidelines, ensuring that our audiences and staff can feel safe and confident in returning.”
“The current social distancing requirements and capacity caps in place at cinemas in England have undoubtedly presented significant financial and operational challenges to many of our members, so we are pleased they will now be given the opportunity to respond more flexibly to audience demand. We hope to see similar announcements in the other U.K. nations shortly,” said U.K. Cinema Association chief executive Phil Clapp.
The devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own timelines to come out of the pandemic, which will be revealed separately.
We will continue to work with the government and our members to ensure that the big screen experience remains a safe and enjoyable one, something repeated public surveys have shown is recognised by the overwhelming majority of cinema-goers,” Clapp added. “As a result, we expect some safeguards – such as safety screens, provision of hand sanitisers and the implementation of enhanced cleaning regimes – to remain in place at many sites.”
The return to capacity is subject to another review before it is final. Some 27,334 new COVID cases were recorded in the U.K. on Monday.