The UK government has announced that selected entertainment venues in England can officially reopen for business on July 4th, providing they are able to adhere to social distancing and safety measures.
There has been continued uncertainty faced by businesses in many sectors as the plans for reopening the economy continued to evolve. At every point, any relaxation in the rules was to be determined by the ‘R’ level of infection that was present within the community and indeed these measures can be tightened or completely revoked if evidence shows that cases of coronavirus are rising again. It was therefore of great relief for many businesses in the leisure and entertainment sector to hear that the government had granted the reopening of these businesses from July 4th, assuming that there were no changes to the current trajectory of the virus. This announcement was also in conjunction with the reduction of the social distancing rule from 2 metres to ‘1 metre plus’ , a critical factor which would have impeded the reopening of many venues had it remained at the previous 2 metre distancing.
From July 4th, hotels, B&Bs, hostels, caravan parks and campsites can reopen their doors, meaning that they still have time to capitalize on the summer break and start to recoup some of their income. For many Brits, their foreign holidays will have been cancelled and so they will be keen to embark on a UK ‘staycation’ at one of the many tourist locations across the country.
In addition to these, places of worship, libraries, community centers, bingo halls, cinemas, museums, galleries, hair salons and barbers, outdoor playgrounds, outdoor gyms, arcades, social clubs, aquariums and zoos will also be permitted to open, providing they can meet the ‘Covid-secure’ guidelines. Theaters and concert halls are also permitted to reopen, however live performances are not being allowed to commence over concerns that singing could pose a risk of spreading infection.
Whilst this news has been welcomed, there were some caveats to the openings which were not expected. Venues which are not permitted to reopen on July 4th include, nightclubs, bowling alleys, spas, nail bars, massage parlours, tattoo and piercing studios, indoor fitness centers, indoor gyms, sports venues, waterparks, swimming pools and exhibition centers. This was a severe blow to many small business owners, particularly in the beauty industry, who now face continued uncertainty over when they will be able to start booking in clients again and generating income once more.
Gyms and fitness centers are likely to have been hit hard by the news too, as despite being able to take advantage of the furlough scheme for staff and various government funding initiatives, these operations have continually high overheads even when closed due to their extensive property estates, associated insurances and utility costs.
Being given the go ahead to reopen is one thing, but the practicalities of what this will mean in terms of business recovery is quite another. Opening is reliant on ensuring that the venue, staff and visitors remain safe and protected, and ‘Covid-Secure’ guidelines must be adhered to in order for them to continue trading. The costs and implications of meeting these requirements means that for many businesses that rely on a certain capacity to make profits, such as cinemas, hotels, bars and restaurants, the return to business may not be as plain sailing as it sounds. Even when the new procedures are in place, there is no guarantee that customers will feel safe enough to return, and so meeting even required custom at a reduced capacity could be difficult to attain. And with the environment changing so drastically, will customers even like the new arrangement or will they prefer to stay away until things have completely resumed to pre-covid times? This is particularly the case for entertainment venues where the atmosphere is all part of the experience, such as in the cinema or the theater. In fact, this is a real concern for some small indie cinema owners, who have suggested that they plan to snub the reopening date in July and wait until September, when the chances of opening under more normal circumstances could be a possibility.
Having customers return is absolutely critical to this plan working and if they don’t return in the expected numbers, this could have devastating consequences all round. Naturally this will also have a knock on effect on staffing levels, meaning that workers could see their contracted hours cut for the foreseeable future. For some this could mean losing their job completely. Some businesses may find that they are simply no longer profitable with such reduced capacity and unfortunately decide to close their doors permanently. Sadly, this is likely to be the case for a significant number of businesses and we should be prepared to see some of our best loved businesses, both big and small, shut down in the coming months as the longer term impact of the coronavirus pandemic reveals itself fully.