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Coronavirus threat to venues: UK towns and cities could be "like a scene from the Walking Dead" says one owner

(Image credit: Nick Dolding/Getty)

Leading figures in the entertainment sector are calling on the UK government to take immediate steps to protect the industry, as the global coronavirus crisis develops.

Last week Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, which represents nightclubs, bars, live music venues and pubs, claimed that advanced bookings for its members had slumped between 20% and 30%, with London particularly affected, due to a drop in visiting tourists.

Tom Sutton-Roberts, general manager of the Troxy, said the east London venue had been contacted by several event planners concerned about potential cancellations, and had also seen a 30% drop in attendance the previous weekend.

He said: “This is a pivotal moment for the music and events industry ... The current approach of the government and the media coverage of the virus in the UK is having a disproportionate influence on the behaviour of consumers,” he said.

Alex Proud, a commentator, cabaret venue owner and media personality, is highlighting the fact that leading insurers are refusing to "list" coronavirus, meaning businesses affected by the unfolding crisis won't be covered for loss of earnings, or as seems likely in some cases, closure.

“Boris has no plan in place beyond soundbites," says Proud. "Words without actions are of no help to the country. Of course the coronavirus is very serious and I fully support medical advice and hygiene recommendations. However, life does not stop, nor can we simply press pause on the economy for three months.

"If we do, huge numbers of businesses face bankruptcy. Unless we wake up now, we will wind up in a situation that could make our cities and towns like a scene from the Walking Dead”

Specifically, Proud wants the government to respond in three ways.

1. Immediate reduction in VAT to zero for all entertainment businesses until this is over
2. Immediate relief from rates payments until this is over
3. Pressure on landlords to create repayment holidays

Meanwhile, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing for his first UK budget presentation this Wednesday and has said that the government is assessing "options to provide temporary support to small businesses". 

In Italy, the government has ordered the closure of all theatres and museums. The emergency countrywide decree, taken alongside the mass quarantine of 16 million Italians in affected northern regions, includes the cancellation of all concerts and public and private events.

In the US, events are also unfolding fast. This weekend saw the cancellation of tech, music and film festival SXSW, as host city Austin put in place and Emergency Order to deal with the threat of coronavirus.