The U.K.’s roadmap toward post-COVID-19 live events has hit a roadblock with the very first event canceled over “confusing” government messaging.
The events were due to kick off with a show hosted by Liverpool’s Hot Water Comedy Club at the city’s popular M&S Bank Arena on April 16, as announced by U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Monday. This was supposed to be part of the government’s Events Research Program that aims to work closely with local authorities and organizers to undertake studies to get fans and audiences back in safely as restrictions are gradually eased.
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) April 5, 2021
The Liverpool event was due to take place indoors, with 300 people seated. “The pilots will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-entry protocols could ease opening and maximize participation. COVID-status certification will also be trialed as part of the pilot program,” read a government statement on Monday.
However, members of the public took umbrage to a perception that the so-called “vaccine passports” would be deployed at the venue, leading to more than 4,000 hostile messages directed at the Hot Water Comedy Club. A “vaccine passport” is the U.K. phrase used to describe certificates showing vaccination, test or immunity status.
“We understood that evidence of the results would be used to support the case for the FULL reopening of venues like ours WITHOUT the need for social distancing,” the club said in a statement posted on their Facebook page on Tuesday. “Vaccine passports were never at any time mentioned in any of the discussions we had prior to agreeing to put on the event.”
The media and public perception was otherwise, and the club was subjected to what they describe as a “hate campaign” across social media and emails. The organizers contacted Liverpool Council and received a mail that stated clearly that vaccine passports would not be used. But the damage was already done and the club decided to cancel the event.
“As a consequence of misleading press releases/media articles and the confusing messaging on the official government website (which was last updated on April 5, 2021) we have made the decision not to be a part of any program at all,” the club posted. “We have still not managed to speak to anybody in the government about this.”
“We strongly condemn the online abuse that Hot Water Comedy Club has received,” a U.K. government spokesperson said. “Our initial pilot events will be based on proof of a negative test result and there will be no requirement for participants to have received a vaccination in venues like a comedy club.
“Our ambition is to help the British public get back to the mass events they enjoy safely – such as going to sport, live music and cultural events – in a way that ensures the risk of transmission is sufficiently low while maintaining commercial viability.”
As of now, the remaining events, including soccer and snooker championships and outdoor cinema screenings, are going ahead as planned.