As I stare at an empty theatre waiting for actors to perform a live show I’m producing without an audience, I’m informed that outdoor events have been banned for this Summer. 12 hours later I learn that DJs have also been banned from playing at restaurants and hotels. We all knew that the arts and entertainment were going to be the first to close and the last to reopen. What we did not expect is the extent to which the sectors have become the sacrificial lamb of the reopening plan.
Summer 2021 was meant to be the first step towards early stages of economic recovery for artists, promoters, producers, venue operators, suppliers, and service providers after 15 months of inactivity. The current scenario is even worse than last summer.
Last summer open air seated events could take place using mitigation protocols that were successfully implemented by both private and public organisers. Last summer, small scale arts events and festivals provided people living in Malta with some respite from the pandemic. We were told that once the vaccination programme would be advanced, we could also see the return of standing events. We take pride in being the best country in the world with the vaccination roll out, yet still disallow gated events within controlled environments to take place.
As European countries started lifting restrictions on events such as live music, our Authorities seem to prefer uncontrolled gatherings on beaches than controlled groups attending ticketed events following strict mitigation protocols. Over the past months we have seen numerous examples of how safe events can be produced without being super spreaders.
Over the past months we have seen numerous examples of how safe events can be produced without being super spreaders.
In Barcelona 5,000 people attended a rock concert without social distancing rules after all attendees registered a negative COVID test. In Liverpool, a concert for 5000 people was held with no mask and no social distancing. A negative COVID test was a condition of entry, with concert goers asked to take a further PCR test days later as part of a research project to ensure that festivals can go ahead this summer. Maltese event organisers are not even asking for permission to host large scale events of similar magnitude.
The call is for a plan that maps out the rollout for such events to take place with mitigation measures dictated by scientific data. If a religious gathering can take place with worshippers seated side by side, then why cannot we hold a socially distanced arts event for the same amount of people?
If people can attend a religious service inside a Church, then why cannot they attend a concert of sacred music inside that same Church? If vaccines are effective against variants, then why can’t entry to events be exclusive to vaccinated audiences? If most COVID cases in Malta are once again being imported, are we shutting down events because of visitors, depriving people living in Malta of any arts and entertainment events for the next 3 months?
If people can attend a religious service inside a Church, then why cannot they attend a concert of sacred music inside that same Church?
Why is Government still dragging its feet to explore all possibilities for the safe and successful reopening of the Arts and Entertainment industries, just as it did with all other sectors of the economy? We were promised that the €100 voucher would only be released when all industries would be operational. Once again, our industry was forgotten because most of it remains shut.
Professionals in the field have worked hard to keep their heads above water in the past 15 months. Support measures such as the wage supplement were crucial for most, however they do not make up for the feeling of abandonment, distress and anger that is currently being experienced by those whose livelihood continues to be threatened.
With weeks away from reaching herd immunity, the arts and entertainment industries cannot be excluded from the reopening plan. A timeline must be provided defining capacities and restrictions eased over time. Vaccine passports should serve as the only entry to events, all of which can be ticketed therefore providing full control on entry. The ridiculous DJ ban should also be immediately lifted since it simply discriminates one music genre over the other.
The arts and entertainment sectors must be part of Malta’s success story in the recovery process, but their safe return cannot wait another three months.