Theatres’ opening hope…

Jun 24 2021 | By More

Will two-metre distancing go on August 9?

Edinburgh’s theatres are facing the real prospect of being able re-open, after the Scottish Government amended its roadmap out of Covid, so it will now remove all physical distancing measures from Monday August 9 2021.

Theatres have legally been allowed to reopen since May 17. However, very few have, and then only in specially designed performances, because the legal requirement of two metre physical distancing was still in place – unlike the hospitality sector which moved to one metre earlier in the year.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addresses Holyrood on 22 June 2021. Screengrab: All Edinburgh Theatre

The news of this proposed relaxation of the rules comes even though Covid rates are higher than ever. However, the Scottish government’s vaccination programme is on course to fully vaccinate everyone in high priority groups by this Sunday and everyone over 40 by August 9.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood on Tuesday 22 June that her government’s strategic aim has changed to “suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future”.

With this in mind, the physical distancing rules for theatres, performance and all events will be amended from a blanket two metres at all levels.

At Level 0, providing the data supports it, the general indoor physical distancing requirement will be be reduced from two metres to one metre; and the outdoor requirement to physically distance will be removed altogether.

This is the level which Sturgeon said she hopes the whole of Scotland will move into on Monday 19 July 2021.

It will, at long last, put indoor theatre on the same footing as hospitality, which has been operating at one metre distancing since April. It will also allow all outdoor performances to go ahead without physical distancing.

completely remove … physical distancing

The best news comes on Monday 9 August – if the data allows – when Sturgeon says: “our intention is to completely remove the legal requirement for physical distancing indoors and outdoors”.

Both these moves come with a huge caveat – that the figures have to be working. The reasoning for the strategy comes in the Scottish Government’s Review of Physical Distancing, also published on June 22.

The review states that “These are indicative dates at this stage, and final decisions will be taken in the reviews preceding 19 July and 9 August.”

Proposed timetable from Review of Physical Distancing document.

The changes on 19 July are “Conditional on a review of the epidemic ahead of this date”, according to the Review, while the 9 August changes are “Conditional on over 40s being fully vaccinated and a review of the epidemic ahead of this date”.

The Review makes no attempt to examine or explain physical distancing was ever different between the Cultural and hospitality sectors. However, Sturgeon did confirm at Holyrood that the changes in the physical distancing measures will apply to cultural events.

In questions following her statement, Lothian list MSP Jeremy Balfour welcomed the parts of it “relating to the festivals and the fringe, which will start in Edinburgh in a couple of months.”

He said: “Will she confirm that the one metre rule will be introduced for all cultural venues, whether they are standing or seated, and that there will be no restrictions at all for any outside venues?

“Is she confident that theatres and cinemas will be able to have no restrictions come the autumn, so that they can plan for productions that are taking place?”

the culture sector can begin planning

Nicola Sturgeon replied: “I will insert the caveat that I have inserted throughout my remarks today: that is all dependent on meeting the vaccination milestones that we have set out and on meeting the strategic aim of keeping cases at a level that allows us to alleviate the harms.

“If we do that, I hope that by 19 July, the legal requirement for physical distancing outdoors will be removed and the requirement on indoor premises, including those that do not already have a 1m dispensation, will be reduced from two metres to one metre.

“If the data allows it—and I stress that ‘if’—our intention is to completely remove the legal requirement for physical distancing indoors and outdoors by 9 August.

“As I said, we may still advise people to take care with safe distancing, but we want to bring the legal requirement to an end as soon as it is safe to do so.

“We are setting out those expectations today so that businesses, including those in the culture sector, can begin planning along those lines. We will keep people as updated as possible as we review the data in the weeks ahead.”

The 40 page Review of Physical Distancing is available to read online and download as a pdf. Click here for download page on

We asked Edinburgh’s theatres and festival organisations for their responses to the news. The responses we received are here: Physical distancing lifted – official responses.


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