“Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind.” There was no rain in London as Fontaines DC stormed through “Big” at Alexandra Palace last week. They blew it away, leaving joy. A communal explosion of it.
Watching the Irish band, one of the most exciting live acts to emerge for quite some time, strut their stuff was a beautiful thing. It didn’t hurt that any anxiety I felt about attending the show was greatly reduced through the venue requiring proof of Covid status.
In practice, that means a vaccination pass via the NHS app or a registered negative test. This inevitably produced queues outside. But they were good natured. Queueing is something the British are good at, and we’re getting a lot of practice.
“Ally Pally” is not alone in asking for proof of Covid status alongside your ticket. It’s common among larger venues, and increasingly medium sized ones too. The Roundhouse has just added a Covid status requirement. The Royal Albert Hall has been performing spot checks. I needed it to take my daughter to Frozen the Musical. It is in place for the various Comic Con conventions up and down the country. Ditto tonight’s New Order show at London’s O2.
“We have a responsibility to make fans feel comfortable and instil customer confidence when visiting our venue, so we continue to have the COVID Pass in place. We plan to regularly review the measure in line with the prevailing guidance and our risk assessments,” the O2 told me.
Venues taking that responsibility is commendable because it is entirely voluntary on their part. There are no legal requirements in place. The measures are merely “recommended”, putting the onus on them.
I’ve noticed that some policies have wrinkles. London Comic Con, for example, required my daughter to show a negative lateral flow test on each day of the event. Frozen, later the same week, let her go in without one because she’s under 11.
Don’t read that as a criticism. None is intended. The managers of entertainment venues aren’t public health experts. They’re in the business of showing their customers a good time, and they do it very well. Ensuring the safety of customers is, of course, part of the deal. It’s why they have stewarding. But this is all new to them and they’re not getting a lot of help with it.
Yes, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has provided those recommendations. The government admits that there is a higher risk of transmission at indoor live shows, especially larger indoor live shows, where lots of people congregate. Duh. So it is urging organisers to play ball, while refusing to take any responsibility itself. Ministers are putting businesses that are already grappling with the brutal financial fallout from long, enforced closures, on the spot where they should be.
The issue of masks is a good example of why this is problematic. In my experience, staff, who face the most risk through interacting with the various audiences that cycle through their places of work, commonly wear them, sometimes in tandem with visors. Many of the events I’ve attended have recommended them for patrons too, sometimes strongly.
That’s sound. Masks are a proven way to reduce transmission, which is still possible even in a supposedly “Covid safe” audience. I wear them religiously. The vaccines we have are very good. Everyone should get one. But they don’t provide 100 per cent protection from getting hit. People are used to obeying requirements to get in – bag searches for example – so proof of Covid status isn’t such a big deal.
However, there’s a different dynamic at work with masks. Were they required by law, venues would have the necessary cover to ask people to wear them. As it is, it’s a lot to ask staff to tap 60 or 70 per cent of an audience’s members on the shoulder to ask that they mask up, especially if they’ve not brought a face covering with them.
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“Really we’ve been thrown under the bus,” I was told privately by one venue I approached through the course of researching this piece. “We’d like people to wear masks, for our staff in particular. But it’s a lot easier to ask them to if it’s a legal requirement.” Quite. And it’s not just venues that have been thrown under the bus here. Subtly, this is an issue of disability rights.
I’m particularly vulnerable to the virus through type 1 autoimmune diabetes. I’ve got plenty of friends and loved ones with their own issues with health and/or disability, which put them at risk. Some are immunocompromised. Some have respiratory conditions.
“I’m just not sure about gigs,” said a friend, a fellow devotee of live music who is among their number. I could feel their pain. I felt it myself through the long, lean months of lockdown. The return, for me, was a nervous one. It was made easier by venues like the ones named adopting Covid policies. It would be easier for them, and for patrons like my friend, if our government were to live up to its responsibilities for a change.