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COVID-19: Boris Johnson accused of ‘throwing clubs and bars under the bus to save his own skin’ with Plan B rules

New COVID-19 restrictions introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to curb the spread of the Omicron variant have thrown the nighttime industries "under the bus", a trade body has said.

Plan B includes the mandatory use of so-called vaccine passports for nightclubs and unseated performance venues, and the legal requirement to wear a mask in public indoor settings – including cinemas and theatres.

While many theatres and cinemas were already operating under those rules, nightclubs will now have to check the vaccination status of people wanting to visit, as will venues where people will be standing to watch performances.

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The Night Time Industries Association, which represents the nightlife sector, says that the plan is "devastating news" for the industry, and could decimate trade.

Michael Kill, the body’s CEO said: "Vaccine passports have a damaging impact on nighttime economy businesses, as we have seen in other parts of the UK where they have been implemented like Scotland – where trade is down 30% – and Wales, where it down 26%.

"The UK government has twice ruled out vaccine passports before twice changing their mind. The mixed public health messages this week that have been coming out of the government have arrived at the worst possible time – the pre-Christmas period is absolutely crucial for our sector."

Mr Kill continued: "Far from ‘saving’ Christmas, the prime minister has given our sector the horrible present of more pain for businesses desperately trying to recoup losses from earlier in the pandemic. The fact that businesses have only been given one week to make such an enormous change to their operating model is an additional insult.

"It feels that nightclubs and bars have been thrown under the bus by the prime minister for him to save his own skin."

Theatres could struggle this Christmas, union says

While many theatres have been operating with face coverings for a few weeks now, Equity, the performing arts workers’ union, says that venues face "an uncertain winter" and that restrictions could affect actors’ incomes.

General secretary of the union, Paul W Fleming, called for financial aid for the sector, saying: "[Last night] should have included a package of support for Equity members who face an uncertain winter with new harsh isolation rules.

"It should have included a package of support for theatres, reliant on a strong Christmas season, whose audiences will be affected by working from home and the return of a pingdemic. Sector-specific support must now come, support which focuses on the workforce first, and not bosses and buildings."

Moulin Rouge! The Musical saw its opening night delayed this week after a string of positive COVID results saw its cast isolated, only a day after the show told Sky News that one positive case of Omicron could close it down.

Other groups, like Society Of London Theatre, have asked audiences to be mindful and to wear face coverings – though this has now been legally mandated, but it is not clear whose job it is to police it.

Sky News has asked the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who is responsible for the enforcement of legal mask wearing in performance venues.

When do the rules come in?

Face coverings are legally mandated for "most public indoor venues", including theatres and cinemas, with exceptions "where it’s not practical, including while eating, drinking, exercising or singing", from 10 December.

Theatres and cinemas do not need to ask people to show their COVID pass.

From 15 December, the COVID pass system does come in for several other venues and events.

Those are nightclubs, unseated indoor venues for more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues for more than 4,000 people, plus any venue with more than 10,000 people.

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