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Reopening plans, guidance and legislation for the cultural sector

Effective from Friday 29 October 2021

On Friday 22 October, Minister Martin announced long-awaited reopening plans for the hospitality and live entertainment sectors while the Department issued updated guidance, Covid-19 Guidelines for Venues operating for the purposes of Live Entertainment and Nightclubs. Importantly, this announcement meant that theatres and arts centres returned to full capacity with no restrictions for fully vaccinated audiences at seated events. Many of you had questions about admission criteria, especially for mixed vaccination status groups and young people. The Cultural Supports Unit in the Department has answered those questions in a series of FAQs which we have reprinted below.  

Covid-19 Guidelines for Venues and Events
With so many changes happening over a bank holiday week, it’s important that you refer to the most up to date guidance, published on 28 October, as you plan your programme for the months ahead. We remind you that while the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media prepares this guidance on the basis that it is scalable and can be applied to a range of operational models including arts centres, theatres and venues, it is important for event organisers to tailor the information and their approach to their individual risk assessments, needs and events. The requirement that all events are ticketed ones is a noteworthy addition to last week’s guidance, which is in force from 29 October, overwriting all previous versions of guidance.

Here are that announcement’s headlines:

  • Venues, including theatres and arts centres, can return to full capacity, having regard to the public health situation and the individual characteristics of the venues and decide on what safe capacity looks like for their venue.
  • A valid COVID-19 Digital Covid Certificate, with photo identification is required for admission to all venues operating for the purposes of live entertainment (and nightclubs). Ticketing is required, for the purposes of contact tracing, for all nightclubs and venues and will be the subject of regulations from 29 October.
  • Face coverings are still required at all times for employees in front-facing roles, and by all patrons other than when they are seated at their table or when dancing, drinking or eating in permitted live entertainment/nightclub venues.
  • In licensed premises, counter service may be permitted, for ordering and collecting where orderly, safe and socially-distanced queuing can occur.
  • At live music events, up to 1500 standing patrons can attend, and any capacity above this number must be fully seated. Socially distanced bar service is permitted for drink orders and collection. All patrons must show proof of immunity and must have photo ID.

On Thursday 28 October, a few parts of that guidance will be updated as the Minister signs the “Health Act 1947 (Sections 31AB and 31AD) (Covid-19) (Operation of certain indoor premises) (Amendment) (No. 6) Regulations 2021” giving effect to the electronic ticketing requirements for nightclubs and live entertainment venues, as well as the requirements for orderly, managed and socially distant queues for the return to bar service. As most events in theatres and arts centres are already ticketed, the relevant part of these additional regulations is that bar service in theatres and venues can resume with patrons able to have their drinks seated or standing at tables in the foyer and bar areas.

Theatre Forum guidelines
In the last 18 months, Theatre Forum published guidelines for arts organisations, theatres and arts centres. In recent months, frequent and extensive changes to guidance and legislation have meant Theatre Forum’s published guidelines for reopening theatres and arts centres have been superseded by the latest Department guidance. So best refer directly to the most recent version of the Department’s guidelines.
Much of the cultural production specific in Theatre Forum’s guidelines for the creation and staging of work should still be useful to production companies, producers, and artists creating and staging work but any general and employer responsibilities are superseded by the most recent version of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, HSA and HSE Work Safely Protocol.

Work Safely Protocol
The Work Safely Protocol (WSP) was first published last year and developed in consultation with employers and trade unions through the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF).The Protocol and HSA Checklists provide arts centres, theatres, venues and production companies with the up-to-date information they need to safely plan their workplace reopening, return to work for employees as well as welcoming touring companies into a safe workplace. On 20 October 2021, a guidance note was published by the LEEF, which supports the guidance set out in the Protocol. In addition to the Protocol document there is now a range of complementary material available for the workplace including checklists summarising the measures advised. Work Safely Templates, Checklists and Posters – Health and Safety Authority (hsa.ie).

Returning to Work Safely
In line with public health advice, the return to workplaces should continue, as has successfully been the case since 20 September, to take place on a phased and cautious basis and for specific business requirements.

FAQs
The Cultural Supports Unit received a large volume of queries last week. Answers to the questions they’ve been asked most frequently, including those about groups and audience members under 18 years of age, are given below. If you don’t see an answer to your query in this guidance or the FAQs, email director@theatreforum.ie and we’ll get an answer for you. Note that this guidance will be reviewed again in mid-November.

Q What is the legal basis for asking audience members for proof of their immunity status?
A
The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2021 (Number 24 of 2021) provides the legal basis for ‘permitted. This is defined as follows:

‘permitted person’ means—

(a) a person in possession of a proof of immunity relating to that person,

(b) a person under the age of 18 years, or such other age under the age of 18 years as may be prescribed, (in this paragraph referred to as a ‘relevant minor’) who accesses a relevant indoor premises—

(i) accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or a person acting in loco parentis, or

(ii) on such terms (including terms requiring the relevant minor to be accompanied by one or more other persons other than his or her parent or guardian or person acting in loco parentis) as may be prescribed,

(c) a person in or at a relevant indoor premises in a professional capacity, in the course of their employment, or in fulfilment of a contract for services, other than a class or classes of person, that the Minister may prescribe as being persons to whom this paragraph of this definition does not apply, or

(d) a person that stands, or a member of a class of persons that stand, prescribed by the Minister in regulations made under section 31AB(4).

Q Do children need to show proof of immunity status?
A If accompanied by an adult minors are not required to show proof of immunity, but the accompanying adult it.  If a minor is unaccompanied their immunity status must be confirmed.

Q Do employees/contractors e.g. performers have to show proof of immunity status?
A The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2021 (Number 24 of 2021) provides the definition of a ‘permitted person’, in the case of employees/contractors proof of immunity is not required.  A permitted person includes  “a person in or at a relevant indoor premises in a professional capacity, in the course of their employment, or in fulfilment of a contract for services”.  The Work Safely Protocol provides further details on the mitigation of risk and Covid infection control measures in the workplace.

Q Do you need to check ID when checking immunity status?
A COVID-19 passes of patrons’ status to be checked, to provide proof of immunity status, ID should also be checked, but no personal information should be retained regarding immunity status. These provisions are subject to the requirements of the Government regulations. A Record should be kept that the pass of patrons has been checked. Unaccompanied minors also need to present a COVID-19 pass and must have photo ID with them to show that the COVID-19 pass relates to them.

Q How many children can one adult take to a live event e.g. pantomime performances?
A One adult can accompany up to 14 children i.e. a total group size of 15.    

Q Is contact tracing necessary for live event?
A Contact tracing is a requirement for all live events. Ticketing is a requirement for all live events and the ticketing system can be used to facilitate contact tracing. The contact details of a group lead i.e. name and phone number must be collected and retained for 28 days, to facilitate the HSE in the event contact tracing becomes necessary.

Q Do patrons need to be seated in order to consume alcohol at a live event?
A In licensed premises, counter service may be permitted, for ordering and collecting where orderly, safe and socially-distanced queuing can occur. This will be the subject of regulation also. Government Public Health advice is still that table service is the safest style of service but relaxation recognises that queueing can be managed very safely once there is no congregation of people. Hand sanitisers should be at all tables. However, patrons may consume alcohol standing in areas away from the bar counter.

If you have a query in relation to this guidance or the FAQs, let us know by email at director@theatreforum.ie and we’ll get an answer for you.

Photo Credit ©Ben Robbins