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BRITs to go ahead with no masks or social distancing – but insurance problems leave many festivals still in doubt

UK confirms no distancing or masks required at COVID-safe ‘test’ BRIT Awards, but continues to deny festival insurance

festival crowd

The UK government has given the go-ahead for the BRIT Awards 2021 to be the first experimental COVID-safe music awards ceremony to take place this year. This has occurred despite denying cancellation insurance for festivals, which has led to the cancellation of major events such as Boomtown and Barn on the Farm.

With the awards taking place at London’s O2 Arena on May 11, audience members at 2021’s BRIT Awards will not be required to socially distance or wear face coverings. The event is an experimental version of the yearly awards ceremony, with the aim of monitoring the spread of COVID-19 at busy live events. It is expected to have an audience of 4,000, which is only one-fifth of the O2 Arena’s capacity.

With the aim of discouraging long-distance travel to the event, around 2,500 tickets have been gifted by the recorded music industry to key workers in Greater London. This came in the form of an online lottery, which opened to key workers on brits.co.uk this Thursday (April 22nd).

The remaining 1,500 tickets are to be distributed by the performing artists and their sponsors, helping to support people who work in the music industry.

Successful ticket holders consented to participate in a research programme sponsored by the UK government, which will mean a test after leaving the event. Additionally, attendees will need proof of a negative lateral flow COVID test to enter the venue. They will also provide details to NHS Test and Trace.

Comedian Jack Whitehall is set to host the show for the fourth year in a row, and Dua Lipa, Parks, Griff and Headie One have been confirmed as performers.

It comes after a government committee of MPs in the UK, starting in January of this year, have been examining the kinds of support music festivals need in order to return fully. The initiative is known as the Events Research Programme.

A statement from the BRIT Awards said the event will build on previous research gathered through other experimental events held via the Programme, such as the World Snooker Championships and a Festival Republic gig hosted in Sefton Park.

“The evidence from these pilots will be used to inform government policy to bring about the phased return of fuller audiences to venues and events across England.”

A government statement said: “Working closely with the Government to adhere to safety guidelines, this means The Brits, as the first live music show at The O2 in over a year, will play an important role in paving the way for the return of live music at scale as the UK emerges from the past year’s restrictions.”

“Audience members will not be socially distanced or required to wear face coverings in the arena, but they will be required to follow existing Government guidance when travelling to the venue and adhere to rules set out by the event organisers.”

In March, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had only hinted at the BRIT Awards’ inclusion in the Programme. At the time, BRITs organisers said that nothing had been agreed, as it wasn’t clear that the research initiative was compatible with “the complex production requirements of the BRITs”. These concerns have now been solved.
However, there is still a public outcry over what appears to be the UK government’s neglecting to trial COVID-safe festivals.

After a trial festival known as ‘Back to Live’ went ahead in the Dutch town of Biddinghuizen in March, the same inquiry picked up steam in the UK. Many people asked why the Netherlands could host a festival, but the UK has yet to do so, given that the Netherlands’ rate of infection was higher at the time. Boomtown, one of the UK’s leading dance and bass music festivals, along with Gloucester’s Barn on the Farm festival, have now both been cancelled due to lack of government insurance.

‘Back to Live’ consisted of just 1,500 people, and took place in the same location and at the same annual time as the usually 55,000-strong Dutch festival Lowlands. All attendees were tested for COVID-19 48 hours before the event, and 150 rapid tests were randomly administered upon entrance. Of those 150 people, 26 tested positive, and were not admitted to the festival.

Caroline Dinenage – UK Minister of State at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – said some pilot events will go ahead in the UK, albeit not at festivals. Three separate teams of scientists have been deployed to examine transmission rates, crowd behaviour and ventilation to test the impact of the virus in crowded events at select locations, such as The Crucible in Sheffield and Wembley Stadium in London.

Dinenage said there were plans for pilots at festivals, although there have been extra festival-specific challenges. “Quite a lot of the pilots that have been arranged so far, are around events that are going to go ahead regardless, but without a live audience,” she said. “So it’s quite easy to just chuck a live audience in alongside all the scientific measures to make it work.”

“With regard to a festival, clearly, there weren’t any festivals that were going to take place, because they require a live audience. We would need to create a special event.”

Dinenage added that COVID cancellation insurance for events was not off the table for 2021, but said that it would be difficult to organise this solely for festivals, and would be put in place for all kinds of live events. She said no country in the world has implemented a large-scale insurance scheme for festivals.

Dinenage defended the government’s decision not to offer specific insurance for festivals, citing the still real risk of lockdown restrictions going on for longer than expected. This decision was made despite several trade groups for the live sector making increasing calls for the government to launch an insurance scheme. Such a scheme is in the interest of festival promoters, many of whom are already giving their festivals the go-ahead and incurring costs.

When asked about the outcry against the decision during a session instigated by Parliament’s culture select committee, Dinenage said: “The fact is, chairman, as the minister responsible for this I would much rather be able to make an announcement when I am absolutely certain things can go ahead, or at least in a much better sense of predictability that things can go ahead, than announce an indemnity scheme, give people the confidence in order to pull the rug out from underneath them again. I just wouldn’t be prepared to do that”.
Compared to the lack of provision for festivals, the government has begun a support scheme to help reinvigorate the film and TV industries. When asked about the disparity, Dinenage said that the risks of ongoing COVID rules stopping filming projects are much lower than for large events, because there is no audience to consider.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that getting the live events industry back up and running in late summer or autumn would take “a huge amount of time, preparation and expense”, but he added that “there are difficulties with this whole business of indemnifying the entire sector”.