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Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who perform live on stage at Wembley Stadium on July 6, 2019 in London.
LONDON — With the coronavirus outbreak showing no signs of abating, the number of European countries banning public performances continues to rise.
Yet despite nearly all of its neighbors introducing bans on public events, the United Kingdom -- one of the world’s largest live music markets -- remained one of the few touring hotspots to resist pressure to suspend concerts and sporting events.
Concerts by David Gray at London’s The O2 (March 26), Stereophonics at the Manchester Arena (March 13) and shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall by Mumford & Sons (March 23) and Noel Gallagher (March 27) are among those still provisionally scheduled to go ahead over the coming weeks, although, as with everything related to coronavirus, the situation remains in flux.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (March 12), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was considering introducing measures to ban public gatherings in order to reduce the burden on emergency services -- but had yet to make a definite decision. He also warned that the number of U.K. cases was expected to “rise sharply."
On Wednesday the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) said the government was ramping up testing by 500%, with enhanced labs helping the health service carry out 10,000 tests daily. To date, in the U.K. there have been 596 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. Just under 30,000 people have been tested for the virus.
As the U.K. held back, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland on Thursday became the latest countries to prohibit indoor public events to no more than 100 people in response to the outbreak. For outdoor events, the maximum crowd size will be 500 people in both countries. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Thursday that mass gatherings of more than 500 people would be canceled starting next week.
France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Greece have all introduced similar measures over the past week, but most with crowd limits topping out at 1,000. Large parts of Spain, Belgium and Germany have also put a temporary halt on music concerts and sports gatherings. In most cases, the bans run to early or mid-April when individual governments will reassess the situation.
In Russia, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered a ban on mass gatherings of over 5,000 people, effective through April 10. “This situation has certainly had a negative impact on our operations,” Dmitry Shmelev, marketing director of Russian concert promoter PMI, told Billboard. "So far, we haven't canceled any shows, but our projects and artists are in limbo. We assume all financial liabilities for shows we promote, and these are substantial expenses.”
Shmelev said potential losses were further impacted by insurance companies no longer providing cover for show cancellations due to epidemics, as of January. Another local Russian promoter, Melnitsa, announced Thursday the cancellation of several upcoming shows due to travel bans imposed by the United States. They include Moscow and St. Petersburg dates by Missio, Palaye Royale and Sofi Tukker, which will now be rescheduled to later dates.
The total list of acts affected by the coronavirus is running into the hundreds, if not thousands. The Who, Carlos Santana, Avril Lavigne, Maluma, Papa Roach and the Country2Country festival are just a few of the artists and events that have pulled European tours in the last three days. Thursday’s joint recommendation by Live Nation, AEG, CAA, WME, Paradigm and UTA to postpone all touring worldwide through the remainder of March will likely lead to many more cancellations.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we continue to regularly check Public Health England and World Health Organisation guidance,” reads a Thursday statement on The Royal Albert Hall website. “Should there be any changes to the current status, we will take account of any recommendations… and implement all appropriate instructions accordingly,” it states. Until then, the venue will “continue to operate as normal.”
Additional reporting by Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow.
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