Last week, President Joe Biden finally lost patience: he told Americans who wouldn’t abide by the federal legal mandate that they have to wear masks on planes, “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay. And by the way, show some respect.”
In Britain, by contrast, we are being much more timid: wearing masks in similarly enclosed spaces like theatres is still, thanks to the government, SOLT and UK Theatre’s total lack of leadership, purely a matter of personal choice. And unlike on planes, where the air is completely refreshed every 2-3 minutes, the stale air in theatres depends largely on whether the theatre has a ventilation system of any description; when theatres re-opened at capacity, both Chichester Festival Theatre and the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre issued statements advising of what their ventilation comprised of. I am assuming that most didn’t, though, because their message is far from as positive as those theatres.
Neither is the government going to introduce a COVID passport after all to guarantee that everyone in enclosed spaces is at last and at least fully protected by being vaccinated. Back-tracking furiously on a previous statement by the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi that these were to be introduced, Heath Minister Sajid Javid today told the Andrew Marr show, “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”
As The Guardian reported, “Dozens of Tory MPs had been vocal about their strong opposition to the policy – enough to wipe out the government’s large majority in the Commons, meaning they expected that the prime minister, Boris Johnson, would find it impossible to mandate vaccine passports through legislation anyway.”
But if the government won’t do the right thing, what’s to stop SOLT and UK Theatres from doing it instead?
They want their audiences to be able to have their cake and eat it — or at least their frequently overpriced drinks and to drink them, without the restrictions of either being checked for their health status or impeded by having to even wear masks.
As I reported here on Thursday, I wrote to SOLT and UK Theatres joint CEO Julian Bird (pictured below), as well as the Presidents of both organisations Eleanor Lloyd and Fiona Allan, without response.
Last Friday, I followed this up by emailing the boards of both organisations. Finally, I got a response, with Bird writing to say:
“I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your email to myself and the Presidents of SOLT and UK Theatre regarding safety in theatres.
From the first moments of the pandemic, we have been working with government alongside scientific and safety advisors on all sides, and with unions. This led to the creation of “See It Safely” for theatregoers, alongside the decision of both boards that “face coverings should be strongly recommended”.
We await the latest from government in regards to Covid certification, and indeed are trialling their use in a number of venues while those discussions continue. The need to ensure equality of opportunity and fairness for all is one challenge, among many, in the implementation.
I am aware of your strong feelings on this issue – others have strong opinions too. The legal framework here in the UK is very different to other countries, and we continue to discuss all points of view – we will ensure your views are fed in to the discussions.
All of which says they are making hardly any effort to enforce mask compliance — a very basic safety measure — or anything other safety measures. “Discussions continue”. But nothing substantive has yet been introduced. They were awaiting “the latest from government”. Today we have just found out what that is: NOTHING.
Yet the government’s own advice on wearing face coverings clearly states: “We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet. For example, on public transport.”
They also state: “You should use your judgement in deciding where you should wear one. Businesses, including transport operators, can also ask their employees and customers to wear face coverings. You should check with operators of services, venues, and settings that you use.”
So it IS up the operators of those venues to set the rules — NOT merely for the public as to how they behave in relation to their own risk assessments.
If and when theatres are forced to close again (probably more a case of when, than if, alas), I trust SOLT and UK Theatres do not complain. They will have done nothing to mitigate their risks of audiences attending their venues, so why should they even be surprised?
As Joe Biden said, “Show some respect.” I wish audiences would show some for themselves, for their fellow audience members, and for the ongoing prospects of attending the theatre. But without SOLT and UK Theatres also insisting on that respect being shown, it is unlikely to happen.