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Getting back to normal: When will theatre, gyms, bars and more reopen?

By Andy Richardson | Features | Published:

Start the countdown. Put the Prosecco on ice. Search out your lucky pants and get ready to go large at your local restaurant.

Pubs are set to reopen to the public

In seven days, lockdown will be officially over and we can all go out and do whatever the hell we like. Oh. Hang on. No we can’t.

While most kids remain home until September, while those who can work from home continue to avoid the office and while businesses are wondering whether to cut out the middle man and go straight to the insolvency practitioner, it’s time to work out the one question that’s been occupying Weekend’s mind this week: When Will Things Be The Same Again?

Because although we’re allowed to visit restaurants, for instance, from a week today, will we be able to get a table? Will the staff wear masks? Will the steak still be attached to the cow? Who can say.

And while we’re all going a little bit cwazee at the prospect of quaffing a pint, will we have to book a table, order with an app and give the barmaid our number? What if she thinks we’re looking for a date – what if the barman thinks the same?

There’s only one thing for it. It’s time to run the rule over 15 of our favourite things, peering at each of them through the following lens: When Will Things Get Back To Normal?

Theatres

Quick answer: no time soon. The theatrical profession is remarkably creative, spectacularly inventive and can come up with solutions to most challenges.

However, filling a theatre with paying customers when customers are supposed to remain a metre apart leads to only one thing: losses.

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The performing arts was left off Boris Johnson’s list on Tuesday and many think panto season is unlikely to happen.

If that proves true, expect three out of four theatres around the UK to close; they’ll simply run out of cash.

The inconvenient truth is that unless the Government moves quickly to put a plan in place, up to 400,000 performing arts jobs could be lost as the £74 billion-a-year industry shuts down for good.

There are, however, encouraging signs. The brains trust that works in the industry has come up with a range of proposals: audiences wear masks but performers don’t, there are heat sensors to check temperatures on the way in, one-way systems, no breaks for Maltesers at the halfway point.

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Additionally, track and trace is already in place – theatres have phone numbers and email addresses – people can sign declarations that they’re symptom-free, restrict the radius from which people can attend and use Ghostbuster-type disinfectant inbetween shows.

Where there’s a will there’s a way – but it remains to be seen whether the Government has the will.

A ghost light on stage at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Nightclubs and concert halls

Nightclubs and live music venues are in a marginally worse predicament than theatres, if that’s imaginable, because in addition to packing huge numbers into confined spaces, they do so while encouraging the very things that enable the spread of Covid-19.

Sweating, dancing gig-goers are an infection waiting to happen – just look what took place when Novak Djokovic took his tennis playing mates to a nightclub – and they’ll remain shuttered for some time.

That means jobs will inevitably be lost – and those looking for love will have to switch to dating apps rather than chatting up a future husband or wife over a bottle of lager and a soundtrack of Rita Ora.

Casinos fall into a similar category. There’ll be no expensive games of Black Jack for the foreseeable future. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “The nightmare of enforced closure goes on.”

Swimming pools and gyms

It’s not looking good, which is a little odd considering all of the germ-killing chlorine that swashes through the average municipal pool.

Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England, says the Government’s decision not to open swimming pools is inconsistent.

“Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s safer to go into a pub than a pool and I’ll shut up. But if not, examine the evidence, come and see our test sites and let us open.”

The same issues apply to gyms. The UK has more than 7,000 of them and the two-thirds that are run privately face ruin.

Just under 200,000 people work in the sector, but only outdoor gyms can open from July 4 – and there are hardly any of those, given the British weather.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden remains hopeful, however, that gyms and leisure facilities may open in mid-July, though that very much depends on whether there’s a spike in infections over the next three weeks. Water parks find themselves in the same predicament.

Many pubs will have protective screens around the bar

Cinemas

The movies are back. Cinemas across our region will start screening films, with many open on July 10. Showcase Cinemas, in Walsall and Dudley, will be among them.

There will be enhanced health and safety measures for both customers and staff. The new safety protocols are designed to help everyone “Be Showcase Safe” and include a limited capacity in every cinema screen to maintain social distancing, staggered film start times during the day alongside fewer screenings, which mean fewer people in the lobby at any one time.

Guests are encouraged to wear face coverings, and multiple hand sanitising stations have been placed throughout the cinema for guests to use.

After each screening, staff will conduct a thorough cleaning regime, which includes a new anti-viral fogging machine that eliminates airborne viruses on contact, and will be used on every seat in every screen between shows and at the end of each day.

Each auditorium will also have a new air purifying system installed that also kills airborne viruses.

Perspex shields have been installed at all till points and film-goers will now also be able to order their food and drink in advance and collect from a designated pick-up section.

Contactless payment is encouraged for any purchases made in cinema.

Another new initiative is the self-scanning of tickets to enter film screenings – guests that have booked tickets online in advance will be able to scan their confirmation email on their smartphone in order to gain access to their film. Alternatively, they can use the self-service ticket collection machines in the lobby.

To welcome back cinemagoers, Showcase Cinemas will be screening a raft of classic films for just £5 a ticket ahead of the release of Disney’s Mulan and Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated Tenet later in July.

UK General Manager Mark Barlow said: “We are all really excited about welcoming film fans back to Showcase Cinemas. We’ve been busy preparing for our re-opening by making all our sites as Showcase Safe as possible for the comfort of both staff and guests, which has always been our top priority.

"We encourage all our guests to use the hand sanitiser available, regularly wash their hands, wear a face covering and practice social distancing when inside the cinema.

“There are some fantastic films to be released in 2020 and we can’t wait to see people enjoying movies back on the big screen. We’ve also brought some classic hits and recent favourites back to remind everyone just how great it is to see them in the cinema.”

Restaurants

Woohoo. It’s time to order burger and skin-on fries. Just don’t touch the salt shaker while you’re there.

The much-vaunted reopening of our hospitality sector will help to save hundreds of thousands of jobs, though many will still be lost.

Don’t expect every local restaurant to open on July 4, either. Many are still trying to work out how they will trade when the 1-metre-plus regulation comes into force.

Typically, restaurants make eight to 15 per cent profit from a service, but with lower footfall some won’t be able to make the numbers add up.

Hospitality is a tough and resolute industry but there will be many restaurants that remain closed through summer, some even until next year.

Restaurateurs are pragmatists and will have noted that lockdown easing from Florida to Beijing and Berlin has led to a spike of infections.

They will not want to risk either the health of their staff, the reputation of their businesses – imagine being at the centre of a wave of infection; it would kill a restaurant – and they are concerned about taking data from customers and the practicalities of life post-lockdown.

So while a number of restaurants will reopen on July 4, for others, it will be a gamble that they are unprepared to take.

Think on this, also. The costs of reopening a restaurant are considerable. Staff have to be brought back from furlough, at great expense.

Fridges have to be stocked, restaurants deep cleaned, creditors paid and much, much more. A lot of operators will be waiting to see what their rivals do before opening the doors.

You can get your hair cut but it’s a no to beauty treatments

Beauty

The new Covid guidelines are riddled with inconsistency.

So while hairdressers and barbers can open, beauty salons will remain closed.

The Government will only allow such “close contact” services to restart when it is confident they can operate in a “Covid-secure way”, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

So if you’re hoping for a full body massage to ease the stresses of a 12-week lockdown, the only option remains a jar of Johnson’s Baby Oil from Tesco and a request that your partner gets hands on.

Tattoo and piercing parlours are also out of bounds, meaning that butterfly you plan to tattoo on your foot will have to wait.

Hairdressers

On the other hand, hairdressers – who are just as ‘close contact’ as those in beauty parlours – can reopen. Perhaps Boris made that exception because his straw mop of hair is in need of attention.

There will be plenty of precautions, so expect your barber or hair stylist to be wearing a screen, expect to be asked to wear a mask and make payment using contactless means – or pre-pay before attending.

There will be less waiting before hopping into the chair, with strict timetabling and no reading glossy magazines before enjoying a wash and blow.

Holidays

Overseas travel remains unlikely for most people as they observe Government advice not to venture beyond our borders.

More than two-thirds of Britons are not planning international travel for the rest of the year, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Sky News.

The survey of 2,412 adults revealed that the majority of British people are not intending to go abroad anytime soon, with 68 per cent of people not planning international travel in the next six months, while only 16 per cent are still intending to travel and the remaining 16 per cent are unsure.

Among people aged 65 and over, 75 per cent said they were definitely not planning to travel before December.

Given that we’re required to quarantine for 14 days after a holiday, most people simply won’t be able to take the time off work – let alone be able to afford – a trip overseas.

If you are planning to travel, book travel insurance – and make sure it’s decent, covering all risks, including, erm, an unforeseen global pandemic that leads to 65,000 British deaths and the collapse of the economy.

Hope springs eternal, however, and the good news is that British holidays have never been more popular – actually, they have, there was an era before cheap foreign travel when the best we could hope for was a trip to Bognor Regis of Skegness, but we digress.

Hotels are once again open for business and you can discover the sights and sounds of our beautiful British Isles during the summer; we hear there’s a place called Barnard Castle that’s particularly good for day trips.

Check out the bluebell woods, they’re lovely, but don’t drive if you need to test your eyesight. Hotels are likely to operate differently, to maintain standards of hygiene and ensure social distancing.

So don’t expect a buffet breakfast or room service; do expect staff to be behind screens and visors.

Holidays are set to change in the wake of coronavirus

Bowling alleys and indoor skating rinks

Not happening. All those unwashed hands on the same ball. All those handwashed hands on the perimeter of the rink. Next.

Indoor play areas including soft-play

As above. Next.

Galleries

Commercial galleries have been ahead of the curve for some time, having opened earlier this month.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that those whose own money is being gobbled up by being dark sprang into action, while publicly funded galleries stayed closed.

A number of galleries have run exceptional online events; we cite Wolverhampton as being an excellent example. They are, however, no replacement for the real thing.

The adventure and sense of wonder created by the four walls of a gallery cannot be replicated from the safety of a computer screen.

Expect there to be some differences when you go back to galleries and exhibitions.

Appointments will probably be necessary and masks may be required, rules that will put off some casual visitors.

Fear not, however, most galleries run on low attendances and only really get busy when they are showing works by famous artists or those who are notorious.

Bingo halls

Bingo is back. We can’t go to theatres but we can go to bingo halls. So that makes sense. House.

BBQs

You can’t ‘Do A Djok’ and throw open the gates to your garden for a full-on party.

You can, however, now mix with another household, either outdoors or indoors – which is perfect if you’re planning a barbecue and the heavens open just as you’re lighting a match.

Regardless of size, two households can meet up to eat undercooked burgers and burned chicken.

You can stay overnight, too, so crack open the tequila as you’re tucking into your taco. However, the devil is in the detail.

The government does not recommend meetings of multiple households indoors because of the risk of infection.

In addition, the two households would have to maintain social distancing – unless they are part of the same support bubble.

Outdoors, people from multiple households can meet in groups of up to six – but two households can meet regardless of size.

Weddings will be on

Sport

After winning the Cricket World Cup last year, the question on many sportsmen and women’s lips is this: Can we get back on the village green (or town square) to re-enact our Ben Stokes fantasies and crack the bowler for six?

Simple answer: no.

Though the Prime Minister is a fan of the world’s greatest game (unless you hate cricket, in which case it is more boring than a non-time-limited game of chess), cricket is off.

Boris says the ball is the perfect vector on which to transmit the disease. A little like the bowling ball in the also-closed bowling alleys.

Cricket authorities plan to challenge that, however, so local clubs may be padding up before the summer is through.

Weddings

Ding dong. It’s on.

There won’t, however, be any kissing of brides – except for the groom, who will be a part of her bubble.

There will, thankfully, be appalling speeches that are funny for being so awful, rather than because the jokes make you laugh.

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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