Covid-19: Taskforce aims to help entertainment venues reopen

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image captionConcerts such as this one in Liverpool have been used as test-events as cultural events attempt to recover from lockdowns

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said she hopes "100%" to go to a concert or outdoor performance this summer.

The minister has set up a Culture Recovery Taskforce to recommend measures for entertainment venues to reopen and performances to resume.

Some plays, live music, performances and exhibitions resumed in England, Wales and Scotland on Monday.

Theatres in NI have been given an indicative date of 21 June to reopen.

Libraries, museums, galleries and cinemas are expected to open from Monday.

'Something to work towards'

However, capacity is limited to 50%, or up to 1,000 people at most.

Social distancing and face masks are still needed but "Covid passports" or proof of a negative test are not required to enter a venue in England.

image captionDeirdre Hargey is hopeful of attending cultural events in the summer

Ms Hargey told BBC News NI the 25-strong taskforce would consider how venues in Northern Ireland could open safely to audiences from 21 June.

"We wanted to give that date so that it's something to work towards," she said.

"What I would like to see the task force do is how then we can open on 21 June safely.

"There are a number of pilots that are taking place in England, we're obviously getting information on that via the SAGE committee which the health minister and the chief medical officer sit on.

"We'll be monitoring those closely, and I want all of that to go through this taskforce.

"But also to look at the local knowledge and expertise here, people who run events, people who organise safety around key events in planning for coming into the summer season.

"But doing that in a safe way that keeps the opening long-term and sustainable."

The taskforce includes those who run festivals, music, theatre and arts venues and organisations.

Ms Hargey said she also wanted to see live music resume "as quickly and as safely as possible".

"I want to get venues a bit of normality back," Ms Hargey said.

"We have obviously eased a good bit of restrictions around outdoor events and indoor events from next Monday.

"We want to build on that then to aim for 21 June to make sure that we can do that quickly and also as safely as possible."

However, the minister also said that if some restrictions on performances or audiences remained there would need to be further financial support for venues and those working in the sector.

Ms Hargey was asked by BBC News NI if she expected to be able to go to a concert or performance this summer.

"I would hope to go to some type of concert or outdoor venue, 100%," she replied.

"I do hope through the taskforce and the work that we'll be doing with the executive that we can see that ray of sunshine over the summer season, and particularly during festival season."

image captionRotha Johnston is the chairwoman of the taskforce

The chairwoman of the taskforce, Rotha Johnston, said its purpose was both "recovery and re-opening in the short-term".

"I think what the taskforce will want to look at are the measures that have been put in place for live performances across the water in England," she told BBC News NI.

"What can we learn from those measures and can they be applied safely here?

"We will be guided by the views from the executive and the guidelines in place at that time, but the sorts of issues we'll want to look at are in terms of capacity, in terms of social distancing, in terms of track and trace.

"But also for these organisations the viability - what does it mean for them opening in terms of those additional requirements.

"We'll want to look at every possibility."

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