The streets of Manchester city centre are usually teeming with revellers on any given weekend.
But the familiar hustle and bustle that makes part of why the city is so great has sadly been somewhat non-existent since the country was first placed under national lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic towards the end of March 2020, and while the partial lifting of those restrictions throughout the year and the introduction of the tiered system that followed, allowed for a significant number of hospitality businesses to welcome customers through their doors for a period of time, before being ordered to close once again, others have never been permitted to reopen at all.
When it comes to the identifying the industries that have been continuously subjected to ongoing restrictions, it’s hard to recognise the nighttime economy – the fifth biggest industry in the UK – as being anything other than one of the hardest hit.
Nightclubs right across the UK have now been closed for in excess of 329 days.
And after ongoing economic struggles, several devastating permanent closures, and a long, hard fight by business owners and industry names – as well as the forming of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in December – that inevitably arose as a result of prolonged shut-down, the Nighttime Industries Association (NTIA) was left with no choice but to issue a stark warning to the government last month.
The body urged government ministers to provide further financial support to nightclubs, after warnings came that 75% of clubs could face serious hardship during the third national lockdown.
While some of Manchester’s most iconic nightclubs and entertainment venues were among those to celebrate receiving a share of the government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund, many more were denied funding and were left feeling that the Arts Council considered them to be “culturally insignificant” due to their rejection.
NTIA CEO Michael Kill said that the entire sector faced financial ruin if support is not implemented soon.
“Our biggest concern at the moment is nightclubs becoming systematically extinct by the government’s ignorance and lack of narrative around the night time economy.” Mr Kill said.
“That becomes a cultural issue and an economic issue.”
The overarching feeling among the night time industry was that it had ultimately been forgotten by the government throughout the pandemic.
Neglected to be addressed in the daily press conferences, and with updates only sporadically provided.
But yesterday evening, after what seemed to be one of the longest times coming, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation directly via a live televised Downing Street press conference and appeared to hint that Brits could be allowed to return to nightclubs with the use of rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) tests.
Mr Johnson said that the use of lateral flow tests could be the “route forward” to reopening those businesses that have been “the toughest nuts to crack”.
Ahead of the revealing of his roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions next week, the Prime Minister said: “For the purposes of this country and doing things within the domestic UK economy, we will look at everything.
“But what we are thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination [as] we intend to vaccinate all of the adults in the country by the autumn, plus lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits that have been the toughest nuts to crack.
“Such as nightclubs or theatres – those parts of the economy we couldn’t get open last year.
“I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down [and] you are already seeing lots of business using the potential of rapid, on-the-day testing as well.
“I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward.”
He then insisted that it was “still early days” in easing COVID1 -19 measures, and that “there are lots of discussions still to be had”.
Pregnancy-style lateral flow tests, or ‘rapid’ tests, have been used by the government as part of “surge testing” in areas with high coronavirus (COVID-19) infection rates – including most recently in parts of the borough of Manchester where a new variant has been found – as they can give results in 30 minutes.
They are also currently being offered to people who do not have symptoms in a range of settings, such as universities, schools, care homes and workplaces, with the potential for nightclubs to be added to that list.
Despite previous doubts by Public Health England (PHE) over their reliability, Sir Patrick Vallance – the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser – last week described lateral flow tests as a “really important part of our toolkit”.
The government is reported to have spent more than £1 billion on lateral flow tests so far.
The news of the Prime Minister’s indication that rapid flow testing could be introduced in night clubs has been met with relief by notable figures within the nighttime economy sector, including Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Adviser and co-founder of Warehouse Project and Parklife, Sacha Lord.
After continuing to remain at the forefront of the fight to save the industry over the past 11 months, Mr Lord took to Twitter to give his thoughts.
With the release of the roadmap and the delivery of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget both on the horizon, Mr Lord also said in an tweet prior to the Prime Minister’s press conference address that: “The next two weeks are the most critical two weeks for hospitality, that I can ever remember”.
“We must do everything we can, to fight to save the 5th biggest industry in the UK”.
Offering further comment and reflection on the Prime Minister’s announcement in an appearance on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Lord also clarified that: “None of the [venues] that I’m speaking to think it’s viable to open at a socially-distanced rate, they’re all pushing for 100% and this is the key,
“This is the answer and this is what we set out many, many months ago… that we have two options to get into these venues, either you have had the vaccine, or you have a quick test on entry.”
He closed by acknowledging the fact that he knows that lateral flow tests still take time to produce results at this point, but said “we are not expecting nightclubs to open tomorrow” and commended the situation the country is in with regards to the wider vaccine rollout.
While it’s unclear at this point as to whether rapid testing will be the “route forward” that is hoped for nightclubs, there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel.
For the latest information, guidance and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK, please do refer to official sources at gov.uk/coronavirus.