Can the nightclub industry survive Covid passports?

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Can the nightclub industry survive Covid passports?


isIt is the height of summer and trouble is brewing at the gates of nightclubs in England. From September, Boris Johnson said, clubs and other crowded venues will have to ask guests for proof that they have been fully vaccinated. Essentially, the new door policy is two hits or you don’t get in.

If the government moves forward, in the face of an opposition coalition that includes Labor, Liberal Democrats and the right wing of the Conservative Party, nightclubs will not only be hit.

Overcrowded venues that host large numbers of guests, such as concert halls, are likely to be included. Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi has hinted that sporting and commercial events may also be eligible only for the double hit.

Clubs, however – which unlike pubs, restaurants and most bars were closed for almost 18 months until July 19 – have been at the center of politics.

“We were thrown under the bus,” said Peter Marks, managing director of Rekom UK, which owns club chains such as Pryzm and Atik.

Marks is better informed than most of the financial pressures the industry faces. The company was known as Deltic until it went bankrupt last year and was only saved thanks to investment from Swedish nightlife group Rekom. This failed because, despite the forced closure of businesses, the clubs lacked financial support.

The announcement of the vaccine passports, Marks said, was a “huge shock,” coming days after a government report concluded they were not needed.

“Everything I was involved with with ministers concluded that we would not be there,” he said. He believes the government has made a political choice in an attempt to be seen as responsible, amid public concern over the lifting of restrictions elsewhere.

“I don’t think Boris has the bottle to ask pubs to have Covid certification and that’s why he targeted us. Young people don’t vote, or vote Labor, ”he said. “It’s completely chaotic – playing the gallery because the infection rates were going up. “

Polls have consistently shown they support most security measures, making it difficult for the nightlife industry to argue.

“This is an extremely thorny and very controversial subject,” says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). “It divided a lot of people and friends fell out over it. “

But the industry’s point of view is fairly unanimous. A snap poll of about 250 sites by the NTIA found 83% were against vaccine passports.

The main concern is that the young people no longer come. A surprisingly high 80% of the nightclub trade is spontaneous rather than booked in advance. This makes it vulnerable to people who decide on the spot to go elsewhere.

Kill and Marks both point out that many young people will not have had the chance to be fully immunized by September and that vaccine skepticism is skewed towards young people. And that’s not to mention the cohort of people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, or the mistrust among some ethnic minority communities who have reason to be suspicious of mass vaccination programs.

The danger, Kill and Marks add, is not only that young people will go elsewhere, but that clubs and concert venues will not be able to find the staff, exacerbating an existing and acute shortage of bouncers.

Some well-known performers have also said they will not perform in venues where vaccine passports are required, with rock star Eric Clapton the latest to object.

The queue at Egg London in the early hours of July 19, day clubs were finally allowed to reopen. Photographie : Rob Pinney/Getty Images

All of this threatens to hamper the much-needed recovery of the sector. But what outside observers really don’t understand, says Kill, is that government policy may simply not be working.

“It is a very dangerous game because what will eventually happen is people who do not have the vaccine will go to illegal events which are not safe for Covid and are not regulated, licensed or managed. . “

Clubs, he says, have the means, the desire – and, most importantly, the ventilation – to help people raving responsibly, unlike illegal gatherings.

The timing of the vaccine passport policy is also of concern to Kill.

“They’re doing it right before freshers week. What do you think will happen with thousands of students?

Reg Walker, safety consultant for concert halls and festivals, anticipates application issues, warning:

“You might end up with people showing up and trying to get in anyway.

If they show up in numbers, you end up with a public order situation, the same one you saw at Wembley Stadium [during the European football championship]. «

There are also other pitfalls. Clubs already feel that there is no substantial difference in how crowded their venues are compared to bars and pubs, which often only have standing places until midnight.

There is nothing, in theory, to prevent pubs and bars with enough floor space from installing dance floors to meet the needs of those who are not or want to be vaccinated. . This means a limited decrease in risk, if at all, but a huge competitive disadvantage for nightclubs, which are already catching up, having only been able to open since July 19.

Vaccine passports cost money even before they are implemented.

Tickets for concerts or events that have already been sold will be accompanied by terms and conditions. These will not have included the requirement to display a vaccination passport.

“I spoke to a promoter who said he had to pay back over £ 50,000 in tickets,” Kill said. “These are people who are not vaccinated or who do not want to be. They bought in good faith and are now in that position.

Pub goers in Manchester are waiting to be served last week after the Covid restrictions were lifted. Photographie : Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

The key to avoiding business bankruptcies while keeping people safe, Marks adds, is to let clubs and concert halls do what they’re already good at.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but it is utterly ridiculous to target an industry based on absolutely no science. The only fair way to solve this problem is to use a boring old process called risk assessment.

“We have the best ventilation in the business due to smoking days, with an air change every four minutes.

“There’s all the cleaning we can do, [and] having more security than anyone else, we can do the recording … it doesn’t make sense [what the government is doing] other than for political purposes.

“If you’re trying to encourage people under 30 to get vaccinated, that’s a terrible way to go about it. “

However, not all sites are affected. AEG, owner of the O2 Arena in London, is anticipating the new policy. He said he would ask for proof of a vaccine, negative test or immunity to Covid-19 upon entering his first show since it reopened, set by Gorillaz on August 10.

This might be suitable for large rooms with a lot of space and deep pockets. For the smaller places that form the basis of British culture, the optimism that accompanied the reopening remains tinged with anxiety.

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