I returned from Barbados last week, and as much as it was confusing to comply with the testing regimes before going there, while there ahead of our return, it felt very, very safe that the authorities there insisted on them, both on landing (and then requiring quarantining until the results came back) — and that the airline, too, insisted on masks being worn.
The fact that everyone aboard the plane had been tested ahead of the flight provided a massive element of reassurance that the virus wasn’t being brought onto the plane — but even it was, that masks would protect us (plus the air circulation on planes entirely replaces the air in the cabin every 3-4 minutes, so it’s essentially a safe environment).
Compare and contrast that with the situation in theatres: I recently wrote to every major theatre chain in London to ask to see their COVID safety risk assessments and ventilation plans. Two operators did not acknowledge or reply to the emails. Of the three that did, I was either given or directed to generic statements on their websites with assurances that steps had been taken.
As I wrote in my daily newsletter column, a New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughes recently visited London — and found the COVID safety provisions hardly reassuring, not least of all when she herself tested positive for the virus after a few days here.
As I quoted her reporting of her visit to the Old Vic: “At that and nearly every production I saw, there were loads — sometimes a majority — of barefaced people in the crowd, which felt reckless and delusional, as if the pandemic were a thing of the past. (I’d have thought an audience could at least unite in the cause of trying not to kill Ian McKellen with Covid, but apparently not.) If I hadn’t just had the virus, it would have freaked me out completely. New York theaters, vastly more rigorous about masks and vaccinations, feel much safer….. I love London, love seeing theater here. I just wonder when it will feel OK to come back.”
Interestingly, the piece was characterised by The Stage’s editor Alistair Smith in an editorial as sitting “within a slightly strange tradition of NYT features knocking London”, though he also conceded: “But it’s also not entirely wrong. Covid safety measures are being enforced inconsistently across the West End.”