The socially-distanced reopening of indoor performances in England has been delayed until at least 15 August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
The easing of restrictions at theatres and music venues was due to start this weekend, but has been postponed amid concerns over a rise in virus cases.
In addition, masks will be required in museums, galleries and cinemas – enforceable in law from 8 August.
Mr Johnson said: “We simply cannot take the risk.”
The government had been working with the arts sector on pilot performances with socially-distanced audiences in theatres and music venues in recent weeks.
Jon Morgan, director of Theatres Trust, said it was “disappointing that socially-distanced indoor performances will not be able to go ahead” as planned.
“However, in reality, the majority of theatres were not planning to reopen for shows tomorrow so a two-week delay will not make a huge difference.
“Most theatres will not be able to put on productions until we reach stage five [of the roadmap for the return of professional performing arts], which allows fuller audiences, so that is the most critical date for much of the sector.”
Earlier this month the government announced a £1.57bn support package for the arts, following several weeks of lobbying from theatres, music venues, art galleries and other cultural institutions, many of which had said they were on the brink of collapse.
The government also outlined measures to “support the safe return of audiences”, including:
- Reduced venue capacity and limited ticket sales to ensure social distancing can be maintained
- Tickets should be bought online and venues encouraged to use e-tickets to reduce contact and help with track and trace
- Venues should have clearly communicated social distancing marking in place in areas where queues form and adopt a limited entry approach
- Increased deep cleaning of auditoriums
- Performances should be scheduled to allow sufficient time to undertake deep cleaning before the next audience arrives
- Performers, conductors and musicians must observe social distancing wherever possible
The government also recently revealed its “five-stage roadmap for the return of professional performing arts”, which was detailed by Mr Dowden as follows:
- Stage One – Rehearsal and training (no audiences and adhering to social distancing guidelines)
- Stage Two – Performances for broadcast and recording purposes (adhering to social distancing guidelines)
- Stage Three – Performances outdoors with an audience plus pilots for indoor performances with a limited distance audience
- Stage Four – Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (but with a limited distanced audience indoors)
- Stage Five – Performances allowed indoors/outdoors (with a fuller audience indoors)