UK government suggests “route forward” to re-open nightclubs

Eleven months into lockdown and Boris Johnson finally uttered the word 'nightclubs’.

Whilst we’ve all been at home, some parts of the world have made headlines after having the luxury of partying, going on holiday and seeing their friends throughout the various lockdowns – thanks to rapid testing. Even the UFC managed to put on MMA events by rapidly testing all of their fighters several times. Is it finally our turn?

On Monday’s (15 Feb) press conference, Boris Johnson announced that the use of lateral flow tests could be the “route forward” to reopening businesses that have been the “toughest to crack” – including nightclubs.

It’s the first time in eleven months since the pandemic started that Johnson has mentioned nightclubs. 

Lateral Flow testing 

Lateral flow tests work by taking a swab, typically from the back of the throat and the nose. The swab is then dipped into a solution, providing a result.

“That, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward” Johnson declared.

The cost

Lateral flow testing is currently free for health workers and some essential workers. However, it is unclear if testing would be free to reopen businesses. There are concerns about how viable this option is, and who would be paying for the test as many businesses have already spent thousands to make their venues COVID safe. While some larger clubs such as Fabric and Ministry of Sound received additional funding from the government, many smaller venues did not.

“It is going to be tricky if the customer has to pay for a ticket and then pay for a test and then pay for food and drink […] The cost of going out is going to inflate massively. We are happy to do what we can to get our doors open safely but we are going to need the support to be able to do that, whether that is financially or operationally”

Kyle Parsley, Brixton Jamm events manager told The Independent

Fortunately, tests are rapidly improving from last year. British company PocDoc launched a low-cost rapid testing service, boasting a test of £10 and a 98% accuracy result in “the time it takes to order at Starbucks” as mentioned by CEO Steve Roest. 

The UK government has currently partnered with three British companies, Omega, SureScreen and Global Access Diagnostics, to produce up to 2 million lateral flow devices per day for the UK.

Industry response

Nightlife industry leaders have welcomed the next steps to the reopening, although have voiced concerns about the cost and time to roll out such operations.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) have been pushing for the lateral flow testing for months.

“We have been lobbying Government with a strategy for the safe opening of these important cultural institutions for some time now, using lateral flow testing has been a consistent narrative, and feel know with this acknowledgement we will be given the opportunity to deliver pilot schemes which will substantiate the ability for this sector to open safely at the appropriate time, but more importantly we will be able to plan and prepare for that opportunity”

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Advisor for Manchester and co-founder of The Warehouse Project was optimistic about the announcement :

Meanwhile, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd said that the organisation is ready for a rapid testing system.

“Rapid testing and other forms of health passporting, including vaccination certification, represent one of a range of opportunities to deliver events safely, which we have been discussing with the government since July 2020. A vital element of that work, for our sector, is ensuring that it recognises everyone’s right to privacy in balance with music venues’ need and duty to protect our staff and customers. Any plan for a health passport must contain rigorous safeguards against excluding people unable to be vaccinated or take part in rapid testing.”

Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust CEO

The wait

Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Business & Industry and COVID Vaccine Deployment hinted that venues which require mass testing of customers wouldn’t be allowed to reopen until 90% of the British population is vaccinated (which is currently thought to be September), stating: “We wanted to make sure we reopen the economy as quickly as possible but make sure it’s sustainable […] We have to be driven by data, rather than just dates”.

Zahawi also refused to rule out social distancing measures in addition to vaccination and testing, although rules out passports by saying “We are not planning to have passports or international passports. What we’re looking at is to make sure people can access their own personal vaccination records”.

Health Passport app trials

At the same time, You Check are working on health passport trails alongside Music Venue Trust which the government’s Department has recently approved for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It is unclear if the private sector will handle things differently as alternative plans are in the making.

The first trials are due to take place in the Spring at 100 Club (London) and Exchange (Bristol) at a 25% capacity. 

This would eliminate the need to test while you queue as results would show up on the app (see below).

Image Credit: You Check

Would you pay for a lateral flow test or download the digital passport if it meant you could rave again?

Words: Elle Farrell-Kingsley
Image: Motion Bristol

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