Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, data have been presented from two separate sources that might threaten the imminent release that has been promised by Terminus (why does this make us think of the Terminator?) Day, which is just 2½ weeks away.
As last week’s column emphasised, Lord Lloyd Webber was stridently vocal in his demands for the publication of information derived from the various test events that have taken place across the country over the last three months. Ever the optimist, the musical genius was convinced that there would be no evidence of increases in the spread of coronavirus as a result. That might be the answer. Unfortunately, like so much that the government has attempted over the last 15 months, the project has proved to be an embarrassing nothing.
One would have thought that if appropriate scientists had been consulted, part of the exercise would have involved a full PCR testing regime before and after each event involving every person present to see whether they had brought the virus into a theatre or sports stadium and, more significantly, taken it away from the venue. Instead, the level of the data collected seems little better than rumour and suggests that a relatively small number of people tested positive after events but cannot connect cause and effect nor establish whether others might also have suffered.
That is because nobody bothered to implement the appropriate measures to perform a full-scale scientific study. This is not so much a situation of case not proven as case not tested. It must therefore be back to the drawing board and that could be very bad news.
While no data was officially derived from the large number of supposedly controlled test events, meaning that they served no purpose other than potentially spreading the virus, the situation has changed significantly over the last few days. Another test event, on a relatively small scale compared to what is to come, was the football match between England and Scotland at Wembley.
This has impressively seeded the virus not in London as we might have expected but across Scotland. It appears that as many football fans have brought the virus back across Hadrian’s Wall from London as caught it in Scotland over an equivalent period.
To be fair, it is necessary to split the results into two categories. Around 20% of the victims were actually present at Wembley, while the remainder came down to London on a jolly and will have caught and spread the virus on trains, in planes and, dare one suggest it, places of entertainment. This is quite terrifying and strongly suggests that even an outdoor sporting or social event may be far from safe.
What that says for theatres, where the government long ago dispensed with social distancing, people are cooped up together indoors for 1 to 2 hours and mask wearing is not always applied as rigorously as should be, is concerning. Visiting theatres with 50% capacity or even 100% capacity may put those involved at little additional risk of catching coronavirus. However, how do we know?
Personally, with all due respect to his lordship and any number of government ministers, I would much rather take the word of scientists who have spent their lives studying the subject rather than those with a vested interest.
We will have to see how things play out over the next couple of weeks, but this does not look like good news. If the Javid / Johnson team get their way and dispense with all coronavirus protective measures from 19 July, it could also cause a great deal of angst to those who are obliged to work in locations whether they feel unsafe. It could also hit ticket sales when they are needed most.
On a separate issue, yesterday was the day on which furlough support was cut, with a further reduction in the pipeline before it disappears completely at the end of September. As part of the process, business rates relief and VAT reductions are also being phased out.
None of this is good news for the industry that we all revere, but one has to hope that Dr Theatre somehow comes through unscathed. Realistically, in order for that to happen, more state funding and a great deal of luck is needed in a hurry.