It was the news we have all been waiting for. Almost. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at a press conference on Monday that he is confident that all remaining Covid restrictions in England will end from step 4 of the roadmap on 19 July. Although he won’t 100% confirm until 12 July, after a final review of the data.
This gives the business events industry the green light to reopen fully without any requirement for face masks, social distancing, limited capacities, Covid testing or certification. All venues currently closed will be allowed to reopen, including nightclubs, and there will be no legal requirement for table service in hospitality settings.
The prime minister said: “There will be no Covid certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event although businesses and events can certainly make use of certification and the NHS app.”
It effectively puts the onus on event organisers and venues to use their judgment to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 infections and implement their own measures, which could include Covid-status certification.
But the “Freedom Day” announcement comes amid rising infection rates, with government projections that infection rates are likely to reach 50,000 a day by 19 July, and Sajid Javid admitting in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that this could rise as high as 100,000 over the summer once restrictions are eased.
The announcement also came ahead of expected further guidance for the events industry, which the Meetings Industry Association (mia) said is a cause for concern. “Without the guidance, the announcement appears to be reactionary rather than an informed government and science-backed decision around the safety of events. Business meetings and events are safe – something the mia has maintained from the outset of the pandemic,” said mia chuef executive Jane Longhurst.
“We understand that any forthcoming government guidance from the Pilot events won’t be mandatory, but we do know that the sector will be keen to implement everything it possibly can to ensure the safety of customers and employees.”
But the real question is, how will the announcement impact both client and attendee confidence towards holding and attending events? At our most recent nineteen meeting for agency leaders last week, many agency heads said that while clients are keen to get back to live, many are still not ready to commit.
One agency head described some clients as “slightly paralysed, hanging back and watching and waiting”, while another said his agency’s clients are more concerned about the challenge of getting their teams back into the office safely and are not thinking about live events, or the longer term yet.
So, has Monday’s announcement changed anything? We asked a range of industry leaders and an event safety expert their views…
Richard Bridge, managing director, TBA Brands Division, said: “Whilst the government’s announcement will definitely provide a boost in confidence for the latter half of the year and into 2022, clients are still very aware of the rising cases in the UK and won’t be rushing into any live events without very careful consideration.
“At this point in time, as an industry we need to reassure clients that we have been working hard to get the safety measures, processes, and procedures in place to run events that keep our clients and their delegates safe. Whilst we are all eager to return to live events, we need to remain patient, considered and respectful during this transition phase back to live.”
Dale Parmenter, CEO DRPG Group said: “Clients are still very nervous to commit to live events, although we are seeing high levels of enquiries and future plans being put in place, which is good news. I feel there will be a slow return to live at first until we gain the confidence of delegates and clients. I believe certain safety protocols will need to remain in place such as masks, cleaning stations, some distancing and ventilation. I also believe testing will not fully go away for the next few months until we see a fall in cases and the vaccines really doing their job.
“We have our summer team conference on the 22 July at our studios. Despite the Government announcement, all protocols will remain in place for the 320 face-to-face delegates. Everyone will have a test before entering the building and we are constructing outdoor spaces for catering, which will double the event space. We are also giving the option take part virtually, for whatever reason the 30 or so team members, cannot or do not want to attend in person. The team are very excited to be back together again, around 80 of them have never been to HQ! As employers and the organisers, we have a responsibility to ensure everyone is safe and feels comfortable with the environment”
Michael Gietzen, managing director, Identity, believes the easing of restrictions will give clients more confidence. “We are already working with a number of clients to deliver live events during the second half of this year. There is of course still some hesitation around feasibility, but we have successfully combatted this by reassuring clients and having robust processes mapped out, including contingency plans.
“We have also been conscious that as live events begin to return, audience acquisition will be critical and that attendees will also require reassurances around health and safety. We are working closely with our clients to ensure that marketing and comms strategies are well executed to appease concerns and maximise attendance rates.”
Sarah Thelfall, Events & Safety Consultant, Brightspace Events said she expects the announcement to result in a massive boost in bookings for live events as “suddenly everything opens up and venues who were perhaps holding large spaces for smaller events can re-jig everything to improve the availability picture too – which around the September / October time was starting to become a real issue.”
She added that there are still some major unanswered questions around legislation or guidance for COVID Secure Risk Assessments and predicted that some mitigations would remain, particularly those that don’t impact the guest experience.
“It will also come down to client attitude to risk in general – some will be thrilled to throw off everything and H&S advisors will have their work cut out trying to convince them otherwise! Others will be more cautious and may keep testing, masks in crowded lobbies / conference spaces and social distancing where it’s easy to do so e.g. at exhibitions.”
She continued: “We’d also like to stress that Mental Safety will be a real issue for us to consider – so allowing people the space to socially distance if people prefer and continuing to over communicate about what to expect at the event can only be a good thing.”
Jennifer Jenkins, director, Worldspan, said that while it is good news to see all restrictions lifted in England, it’s important to remember thar very few events are England-only. “Most of us work on national and international projects. Our industry is driven by organisations with global reach and remit.
“To return to business as usual, we need to be able and want to travel again. We will have to wait for organisations and individuals to gather and re-group and that will take time. We will see more virtual and more hybrid delivery as we transition out of the current status quo.”
Johnson said the government will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber countries to isolate, with an update from transport secretary Grant Shapps expected later this week.