Coronavirus is set to one of the defining events of our time.
Its global spread and all-perceptible reach seems to be touching every area of our lives, even down to who we can see, and when we can see them. It shows no forgiveness for civil liberty, with phrases such as ‘self-isolation’ and ‘quarantine’ becoming depressingly familiar aspects of our vocabulary.
It has stopped the entire music industry in its tracks. Almost every single company in London – from colossal major labels down to DIY affairs – is now working from home, a decision made not through legislation but through a sense of moral responsibility, both to the people on the ground and the communities they live in.
This sense of moral grounding, though, seems absent from the authorities above them. Last night – March 16th – Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave another briefing, and muddied the waters still further as to the viability of the hospitality and entertainment industries. In short, he pushed them under the bus.
Rather than enact legislation that would shut down pubs, restaurants, and venues – allowing them to claim for closure on insurance – Boris Johnson once again placed responsibilities on the companies themselves, a cruel and unnecessary blow at a time when such industries are already taking the initiative on protecting public health.
"You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues," he said. Johnson added: "The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already. As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don't believe it will be necessary to use those powers."
The fudge has caused panic, confusion, and outrage, both within these industries and even from some of Boris Johnson’s most public supporters.
Piers Morgan tweeted:
Do pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas close or not?
Ridiculous of @BorisJohnson to just 'suggest' it & not ban it.
Not least because these businesses will be forced to close but can't claim on insurance if they're not ordered to.
This must be clarified – urgently.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 16, 2020
While the Night Time Industry Association – a body designed to protect and promote bars, clubs, and venues – was outraged:
— NTIA (@wearethentia) March 16, 2020
It’s an appalling blow against an already fragile industry. A study last year found that one small UK music venue closes every month, with 54 having shut their doors in the last five years. In all, around one in five venues have closed down in the past 20 years, a colossal blow not only to new music but also to the fabric of British society.
The damage from the chaos surrounding coronavirus is already being felt. Venues may be unable to put on live shows, but bills still have to be paid, staff still have to receive wages.
Glasgow’s dearly loved Hug & Pint has decided to close of its own initiative, and has set up a hardship fund for staff.
They write: "As always, the safety and health of staff, customers, artists and all others is of the utmost importance. However, this incredibly difficult decision has not been made lightly, and our focus now needs to be on protecting the future of the venue and doing our best to ensure staff welfare."
"Like so many other small, independent businesses, we now face an unpredictable and potentially very grave future and we need your help."
"Put simply: without support and action during these times, The Hug and Pint will NOT survive and its staff will be placed in a vulnerable financial position."
Bars, venues, and clubs up and down the UK must surely be feeling these same pressures, with the very oxygen being choked out of the lungs of the British entertainment industry.
"The prime minister's latest advice on mass gatherings has resulted in huge uncertainty and confusion over what exactly it will mean for the music industry," acting chief executive Tom Kiehl told the BBC.
"The government must spell out whether there will be a formal ban, when that might come into effect, which venues and events will be impacted and how long the measures will remain in place. The virus is having a catastrophic impact on the UK music industry and will threaten many jobs and businesses across our right across our sector."
It doesn’t have to be this way. Boris Johnson could and should put in place clear plans so that both the public and business owners are working within a distinct set of rules. He should create some means of supporting a key aspect of the British economy.
In France, President Macron is beginning to put such measures in place. In Germany, Culture Minister Monika Grütters has already commented: “It’s clear to me that the situation is a massive burden for the cultural and creative sectors and that small institutions and freelance artists could face considerable distress. I won’t leave you in the lurch!”
The next few weeks could determine the long-term future of the way live music is structured in this country, if indeed any such structure remains. Boris Johnson can’t afford to get it wrong. We urge him to deliver some clarity, and some real assistance.
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