Theatres in the West End and around the UK will close from Monday night as the government’s advice for people to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres to help halt the spread of coronavirus was braneded “catastrophic” for jobs and businesses.
The Society Of London Theatre (SOLT) – which represents hundreds of theatres in the capital including the National Theatre, London Palladium and London Coliseum – and UK Theatre said the decision was “not taken lightly”.
Industry leaders have called for the government to step in and support businesses because they are concerned they will get no compensation from insurers amid confusion over whether they should close.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press briefing on Monday that people should start working from home “where they possibly can”.
“You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues,” he added.
Theatres will remain closed until further notice and will reopen as soon as possible, following the government recommendations, SOLT and UK Theatre said.
Ticket-holders for cancelled shows will be contacted by ticket providers and are entitled to a refund.
Many theatres that have been forced to cancel performances are charitable enterprises, and while ticket-holders are entitled to a refund for cancelled performances, those who can afford to do so are encouraged to donate the cost of their ticket to show support for the industry.
But industry leaders branded the advice as an “existential threat” to the leisure sector.
Caroline Norbury, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, said: “The advice issued by government today is a crippling blow to the UK’s creative industries.
“As the social distancing measures announced this afternoon are only advisory, rather than an outright ban, we are deeply concerned that creative organisations and cultural spaces will find they are unable to claim compensation for the huge losses they will experience as a result of Covid-19.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the new advice left the industry in “limbo with no recourse to insurance”.
She added: “This is catastrophic for businesses and jobs.
“The government has effectively shut the hospitality industry without any support, and this announcement will lead to thousands of businesses closing their doors for good, and hundreds of thousands of job losses.”
Nightclub owner Fraser Carruthers said on Twitter: “I am a nightclub owner in Kensington and Chelsea.
“You can’t tell the nation to avoid ‘pubs and clubs’ and not officially ‘close us’ so that we can claim our insurance.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin said on Twitter that the prime minister needed to “urgently clarify” whether theatres, music venues and other venues will be entitled to claim insurance.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said that the government must step in and provide a package of support for the sector.
She added: “The very existence of some pubs is now at threat. Urgent measures to ensure cash flow and cost reduction is of absolute necessity.
“Government action now can save jobs and save pubs.”
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs he appreciated the latest advice had consequences.
When asked if the government could give advice on whether pubs and restaurants should close or not so that they could claim on insurance Hancock said: “We’re advising against all unnecessary social contact. I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus.
“I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus.”
An Association of British Insurers (ABI) spokesperson said: “We are working with members to assess the situation, and that firms should, in this fast moving situation, talk to their insurer or insurance adviser.”