Music industry reacts to government’s decision to scrap COVID self-isolation rules

Gig-goers are encouraged to keep testing

Figures from the UK live music industry have spoken out on the government’s decision to scrap self-isolation rules in England for those who test positive for COVID.

Downing Street has said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will reveal details of his “living with COVID” plan on Monday (February 21) – outlining that factors such as vaccination, testing, and anti-viral drugs will be enough to keep people safe, rather than expecting infected people to stay at home.

Self-isolation regulations for those who test positive and their close contacts are expected to cease by the end of this week.


“COVID will not suddenly disappear, and we need to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms,” said Johnson. “We’ve built up strong protections against this virus over the past two years through the vaccine rollouts, tests, new treatments and the best scientific understanding of what this virus can do.”

He added: “Thanks to our successful vaccination programme and the sheer magnitude of people who have come forward to be jabbed, we are now in a position to set out our plan for living with COVID this week.”

Boris Johnson. CREDIT: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary told BBC‘s Sunday Morning today (February 20) this was “declaring victory before the war is over”, that ending mandatory self-isolation was “not the right thing to do” and that this was a distraction from the ongoing ‘partygate’ scandal.

“At this stage the PM risks muddying the waters,” he said. “We want to see the government publish the scientific advice because at the moment this seems very premature.”

“He continued: It seems like Boris Johnson is keen to declare victory before the war is over in the hope he gets some headlines about ‘victory day on COVID’ instead police officers asking questions about actions in Number 10.”


This has caused some concern from the live music industry. The Music Venue Trust’s #TakeATest campaign and bid to keep lateral flow tests free and available for gig-goers has proven a key part of reopening live music safely after lockdown. MVT CEO Mark Davyd described the oncoming easing of restrictions as “very much a mixed bag of changes with positive and negative aspects for the music industry”.

“On the one hand, changes to travel rules on testing and the forthcoming changes to isolation are positive moves for international travelling and will provide additional assurances to US, European and other artists that tours can go ahead as planned with a degree of certainty,” Davyd told NME.

“On the negative side, it remains the case that a significant number of vulnerable people, particularly the immunosuppressed, face the choice of taking known risks to take part in live music, both artists and audiences.”

Davyd added that “grassroots music venues have done all they can to make their spaces as safe as they can be to manage those risks, including encouraging audiences to take a test and consider the use of masks.”

“The removal of access to the free testing regime is a likely next step, and that’s a complicated situation for venues who want to continue to do all they can to protect their community,” he said.

Greg Parmley, CEO of the music gig industry body LIVE said that everyone involved in making live music possible would respond accordingly to allow concerts to go ahead safely.

“The safety of artists, crew and fans has been our top priority throughout the pandemic, with many parts of the sector going above and beyond the government guidance when needed,” Parmley told NME. “Protecting the health of crews and artists has always been essential to ensure shows can go ahead and, given the devastation to the industry over the past two years, this remains paramount.

“If all restrictions, including the need to isolate, are removed shortly then artists, venues, and production companies will continue to act in the best interests of staff and customers, taking the right precautions to remain safe and open for business.”

Independent Venue Week 2022 ambassadors Wet Leg. CREDIT: Jamie MacMillan

One artist hit hard by the lifting of restrictions is Catherine Anne Davies, aka The Anchoress. Davies, who was looking forward to touring her acclaimed second album ‘The Art Of Losing, will now have to push her dates back again due to her clinical vulnerability.

“I’m very sorry to say that I now won’t be able to perform any indoor shows booked for this year due to being clinically vulnerable and the continuing high level of COVID cases and the planned scrapping of any remaining safety measures,” she told her followers on Twitter.

“This is not a decision I have taken lightly but it is unfortunately inevitable due to the medical advice being given to me in light of the current situation.”

To date there have been a recorded 18.6million COVID cases in the UK and 161,000 deaths. On 19 February, 34,377 new cases and 128 deaths in 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK.

David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, agreed that mind should be paid to the clinically vulnerable.

“The removal of restrictions signals another step towards some normality for the music industry, however we remain concerned about artists and others in the sector who are clinically vulnerable and unable to return to live activity,” Martin told NME. “Government must do more to support those who cannot work by extending access to COVID crisis funding to clinically vulnerable freelancers.

He added: “Our sector has published best practice guidance for making live activity as safe as possible. It encourages artists, crew and fans to take LFTs, so today’s news that access to free tests is to be scrapped is completely counter productive in our efforts to keep live music open.

“Evidence of a negative test still represents the best method of ensuring events operate safely and we would encourage their use even when not mandated.”

NOISY supporting Don Broco at the O2 Academy Brixton. Credit: Fraser Mitchell

Attention will now turn to how individual tours, venues and festivals continue to handle COVID safety.

This comes after figures from the live music sector in the UK spoke out on the need for lateral flow tests to remain free and available in order to keep gigs safe and happening.

MVT CEO Mark Davyd told NME: “Music Venue Trust has been pursuing a programme to Reopen Every Venue Safely since April 2020. That programme is built on key elements of risk mitigation that build together to create spaces that are as safe as they can be. A core element of that is a testing programme that is freely available to everyone.

“Our #TakeATest campaign has been hugely successful in allowing the live music community to play its part in the Reopen Every Venue Safely programme. We therefore urge, in the strongest possible terms, the government to keep free tests available and open to everyone.”

Featured Artists’ Coalition CEO David Martin added: “The removal of access to free LFTs would be a complete own goal in the fight against COVID-19 and would represent yet another example of mixed messaging for a sector that, over the last 22 months, has faced its most challenging period in a generation.”

Meanwhile in the US, Coachella and Stagecoach recently announced that they’d be dropping all COVID-19 precautions – with masks and negative test results no longer required at the Californian festivals.

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