Readers of Sunday’s newswire will know that our editor David Chadderton was planning his first theatre visit in living memory this week.
As David explained, the trip to the sparkling new Octagon in Bolton was not as clear and simple as he might wish, given that the town was one of the country’s leading seats of the Indian variant of coronavirus. However, using a combination of common sense and courage, David developed a plan that he felt was safe.
However, unwittingly, he has now found himself in the middle of a long chain of moral dilemmas. Without informing the local council or anybody else, the government published guidance, which is intended as no stronger than a recommendation, that nobody should enter or leave a number of English towns, including Bolton.
Weary and wary readers will be well aware that this is the kind of vague government statement that has, in part, been responsible for approximately 150,000 excess deaths since March of last year. As we have all discovered, this is a government that loves talking about responsibility but repeatedly refuses to take it either ever or until it is too late.
Put simply, either it is safe to enter Bolton or it isn’t and, looking more collegiately, by visiting the Octagon and returning with the virus, theatregoers could be seeding a particularly potent brand of coronavirus and spreading it around the country.
When rumbled, our rulers then made the situation infinitely worse, by downgrading their sly instructions into something even vaguer that people were tacitly encouraged to ignore, even if it could have saved lives.
If there is real danger, one would naïvely expect those in power i.e. ministers of state led by the Prime Minister to take decisive action. This should consist of imposing a law that prevents people from entering and leaving Bolton without good reason (or at all). Alternatively, they might take formal advice from the scientists (that would make a change) and, if appropriate, decide that the risk is minimal and withdraw the vague message.
This brings us to the next problem. Egged on by the Minister for Culture Oliver Dowden, theatres have felt compelled to open, despite the fact that this might threaten their very futures. That is the first link in the chain. The next is the local council. To be fair to councillors in Bolton, they were not even informed that the government expected them to close their borders both to inhabitants and visitors.
However, having discovered the situation by reading details in the media and its social equivalent, perhaps they might feel obliged to take responsibility and notify those in charge at the Octagon that they could risk being responsible for a series of super spreader events.
The next link is the management of the theatre. If there is that much danger, surely they should take responsibility and close down to protect staff, freelancers and punters. However, as mentioned above, this could literally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and closes the theatre forever. That is because the government, despite urging theatres to reopen, will not underwrite any losses that result from the need to close to protect the community and save lives.
One might also imagine that theatre staff, actors and self-employed operators behind-the-scenes could take the government advice on board and refuse to appear to protect themselves and the wider public. That would create an unholy mess but who could blame them?
Last but not least, there are theatregoers like David who are eager for an opportunity to watch performers in the flesh but may be reluctant to put themselves at risk or, for that matter, fail to follow advice from the government of the country, particularly when it is so well hidden on the kind of web site that nobody can be expected to peruse.
It is very sad that the Octagon has found itself in the eye of the storm, but this debacle represents a microcosm of what is going to be happening over the next few months, as coronavirus refuses to follow government advice, continues mutating and threatens lives and livelihoods up and down the nation.