Arts world luminaries including actors, directors and festival organisers have written to the government calling for the introduction of Covid-status certificates, saying this is the only way their industry will bring about the return of audiences.
The letter, whose signatories include Ralph Fiennes, Meera Syal, Tom Stoppard, Simon Rattle, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Bond films producer Barbara Broccoli, puts renewed pressure on ministers over an issue that has alarmed a number of Conservative backbenchers and opposition parties.
Sent to Boris Johnson and opposition party leaders, the letter stresses that such certificates must be as broad-based as possible, temporary, and shown to not discriminate. But it warns that bringing back audiences to live events will happen only by taking such measures.
“We strongly support the government’s ambition to return to full capacity audiences without restrictions as soon as possible, and we recognise that this can be only be achieved through gathering evidence that it is safe to remove or lessen restrictions, including looking at how Covid-status certification could aid the reduction of social distancing,” the letter says.
Certificates must not be based just on vaccinations, it says, but also on antibody tests or recent negative Covid tests. Such a system must not be discriminatory “and have clear exit criteria”.
It added: “If all of this holds true, then we are very much supportive of the continued exploration of this possibility to bring life back to normal as soon as possible.”
Signatories also include Melvin Benn, whose Festival Republic company runs the Reading, Leeds and Latitude festivals, among others; actors Adrian Lester, Simon Russell Beale and Lesley Manville; the director Sir Nicholas Hytner; and Alex Beard, the head of the Royal Opera House.
The government is officially consulting on the idea of status certificates and how they could operate, and is running a series of pilots for mass events. On Thursday it was announced that 4,000 people would be attending the Brit awards in the O2 arena in London next month.
Attendees will not have to wear masks or socially distance, but must show a recent negative lateral flow test and will be asked, for research purposes, to take a test after the event.
On Sunday, 4,000 people attended the FA Cup semi-final match between Leicester City and Southampton at Wembley, while 325 people watched the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield, also trial events.
While Downing Street appears to be leaning towards the idea of some sort of certification as a way of limiting Covid transmission rates when distancing rules are eased, it remains to be seen whether it can get the necessary support in parliament.
At least 40 Conservative backbenchers have said they will oppose such plans, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour have expressed concerns, which would be enough to overturn the government’s majority.
However, much of the opposition appears centred on the possible use of certificates to limit entry to more everyday venues such as pubs and shops. No 10 has not ruled this out, saying only that they will definitely not be required for public transport and non-essential shops.
Labour’s opposition also appears equivocal, with the party saying it opposes “domestic vaccination passports” without being completely clear if this would mean voting against any sort of wider Covid-status certificate at all.