Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): reopening of cultural performances and events guidance

Published: 18 Aug 2021
Last updated: 3 Sep 2021 - see all updates

Guidance for the reopening of cultural performances and events sector.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): reopening of cultural performances and events guidance
Precautionary measures

Precautionary measures

The return of audiences without physical distancing is a milestone for the culture sector after the difficulties it has endured since the start of the pandemic. The Scottish Government knows that the need to impose physical distancing made it difficult for many venues and organisations to operate in a sustainable way. Removing physical distancing should allow the sector to welcome back full-capacity audiences (with the temporary exception of audiences over 2000 in indoor settings and over 5000 in outdoor settings) and begin to rebuild. Nonetheless, there is a need to remain vigilant and to continue to apply caution, particularly as we initially return to full capacity auditoriums. 

While fewer legal restrictions are in force, it is important that increased safety and hygiene measures continue to be applied. The risk of spreading COVID-19 can be higher in certain places and when doing certain activities, several of which occur in many cultural venues. Close contact with others (particularly indoors) represents a high risk of transmission, for example. Those parts of the culture sector where people gather in large number (for example, concert halls, museums, galleries, music venues, comedy clubs) will need to ensure that they have the right processes and systems in place to provide appropriate safeguards for staff, performers and audiences.

The Scottish Government has put in place a range of precautionary measures, intended to reduce the spread of the virus and help us maintain the good progress we have already made as we move forward to greater normality. Although some precautionary measures will remain as legal requirements, others will be encouraged alongside good practice to create safer conditions for everyone. The precautionary measures are set out in full.

As there are now only a small number of legal restrictions, most of the precautionary measures apply across all sectors. However, there are a number of precautionary measures which are specific to the culture sector and events or which are particularly relevant:

Wear a face covering 

By law, face coverings must continue to be worn in most indoor public places (including indoor communal spaces, workplaces and public transport) unless you are exempt for specific circumstances. This includes cinemas, dance halls, discotheques, libraries and public reading rooms, museums and galleries, indoor theatres, comedy clubs, concert halls and nightclubs. This means that face coverings must be worn in the majority of indoor cultural settings.

Some exclusions apply, including for those who are exempt from wearing a face covering. Face coverings can be removed when eating or drinking, but must be worn otherwise. There is no requirement that a person must be seated at a table when eating or drinking.

Face coverings in performance or rehearsing for a performance 

A person who is performing indoors does not need to wear a face covering if there is a partition between that person and other people or if there is at least one metre between that person and other people.

In response to concerns about the performing arts sector’s ability to resume work, the regulations about face coverings for performers, and people assisting a performance or rehearsal indoors have been changed from 3 September 2021. This is to enable performers to perform or rehearse for a performance without face coverings in situations on stage where the wearing of a face covering is not possible, and one-metre distancing or partitioning is not possible.

This exemption will only apply in situations where there is either a partition or a distance of at least one metre between performers and other people (including the audience) but “other people” does not include those who are performing or rehearsing with the performers or assisting with the performance or rehearsal.

It is important that the people responsible for the performance or rehearsal work with the performers, and those assisting with the performance and rehearsals, or their representatives, on the health and safety aspects of these exemptions.

Because of the continuing risk of transmitting the virus indoors, these exemptions from wearing face coverings without one-metre distancing or partitioning should be the exception rather than the norm. 

People responsible for the rehearsal or performance should, as part of their risk assessments, be able to explain how the wearing of face coverings or one-metre distancing or partitioning would materially impede the performance or rehearsal; for example, that the production would be unable to proceed without fundamentally changing the performance; or that the health and safety of the people concerned would in other ways be at risk.

The exemption for people assisting with the performance or rehearsal is intended for circumstances such as rapid scene or costume changes. Guidance is that in these circumstances it is the performers who would be avoiding wearing face coverings and that those assisting them should wherever possible continue to wear them.

The exemption is intended to relate to the particular needs of staged performances with movement. Participants in relatively static performances by, for example, music groups, orchestras and choirs should continue to wear face coverings or use the one-metre distancing and/or partitioning mitigations.

The exemption relates to “rehearsing for a performance” and not to organisations or groups which might rehearse regularly indoors but without a final performance intended or planned.

There are additional actions to support the safety of performers and those working closely with them, set out in the section on additional precautionary measures later in this guidance. As many of these as are practicable should be considered and implemented.

Other face covering measures

There is a specific exemption from wearing a face covering for a person who is seated at a table in a hospitality setting, such as a café , bar or restaurant; eating or drinking, whether standing or seated; and dancing, whether in a nightclub or music venue. Some cultural venues have more than one function (for example, some music venues also operate as nightclubs) and many will have hospitality facilities. It is vital that the correct restrictions and guidance are followed depending on how a particular venue is being used at a particular time. The Scottish Government guidance on safe workplaces provides advice on this.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 set out the full range of restrictions.

Cultural venues, stadia and live events – capacity limits

While we expect the return of large scale events we will, for a limited period, keep in place the processes through which organisers will have to apply for permission if they wish to exceed the current limits on maximum capacity. The current limits are 5000 people at outdoor events and 2000 people at indoor events. This will allow event organisers, local authorities, the Scottish Government and audiences to be assured of the arrangements in place to reduce risk. These restrictions will be reviewed and as with all restrictions will be in place only as long as necessary.

Event organisers can apply to the relevant local authority for larger audiences, either for single, or a series of, events. The process is set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19) stadia and live events guidance.

We recognise the ongoing challenge this will pose in some cases, but believe that this cautious approach will allow venue operators, event producers and local authorities be assured of the arrangements in place to reduce risks in large events.

Hospitality (including nightclubs) 

Many cultural venues also provide hospitality offerings (for example, bars and cafes). Mandatory local licensing laws will apply to all hospitality settings, and the mandatory collection of contact details remains in place.

There are legal requirements to collect and share information about visitors to certain locations. This also includes restaurants, cafes, bars or public houses, and so any cultural venue which has such a facility is required to collect information about anyone who visits the facility. It also includes nightclubs, dance halls or discotheque, and cultural venues that also fall into these categories should understand what this means for them.

Check In Scotland can be used by businesses to collect details of visitors. It allows people to check-in to a setting by scanning a QR code with their phone. Information about how to use Check In Scotland can be found at Check In Scotland.

We strongly encourage the use of table service where possible; alternatively a takeaway service may be provided, though bar service is now permitted in law but businesses should take steps to manage queues.

It should be noted that this also applies to nightclubs. Some venues have multiple functions (eg, a music venue which is also used as a nightclub) – any such venues should ensure that it has in place appropriate processes to fulfil these legal requirements where necessary.

We have published further guidance for hospitality.

Other precautionary measures which are not specific to this sector, but which are particularly relevant include:

Continued promotion of good ventilation 

By taking measures to increase the volume of outside air entering a building, such as opening windows, doors or vents, you can help minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 to colleagues and customers. Reducing the number of workers in a work area at the same time is also an important way to minimise risk. This is not always possible in venues, but ventilation systems should be used to reduce risk. A range of guidance has been developed to help businesses, employers and employees understand what good ventilation is which includes Scottish Government ventilation guidance and the Health and Safety Executive guidance on ventilation and air conditioning during COVID-19.

Good hand hygiene and surface cleaning

Good hygiene measures are key workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment. These include, for example, providing access to sanitiser and hand-washing facilities; regular cleaning of work equipment, chairs and work stations; and regular cleaning and sanitising of break out areas. These practices should also be extended to public areas.

Self-isolate immediately if you get symptoms 

Everyone must continue to follow Test and Protect rules and guidance which means you must stay at home if you have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, even if you have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination. An exemption to the self-isolation rules will be introduced for close contacts who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination, or are under 18 provided they meet further criteria (further information about eligibility is available). People who are not fully vaccinated or who test positive for COVID-19 will still need to self-isolate for ten days.

Get vaccinated

Support staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s offered to them and encourage appointment uptake. Support staff if they would prefer to drop-in at a vaccination centre without an appointment, as this option allows more flexibility.

It is essential that precautionary measures are followed, but it may also require additional measures where necessary. Many venues will have already implemented heightened safety processes and adaptations earlier in the pandemic, and these can be retained where appropriate. 

Steps in addition to the precautionary measures might include:

  • requiring customers to pre-book tickets
  • retaining table service in hospitality offerings
  • keeping physical distancing for performances where tickets were sold on the basis of physical distancing
  • staggering start times where possible
  • putting in place processes to control the flow of people in and out of buildings, as well as within buildings (for example, one-way systems)
  • having physical distancing in certain seating sections or performances

There are a number of additional precautionary measures which can address the safety of performers and those closely working with them:

  • a robust testing regime, usually beyond the minimum requirements and including daily lateral flow tests, or a testing facility being available on site and, where possible, a weekly PCR test
  • restaging where necessary and possible. This means avoiding face-to-face interactions or limiting the amount of time face-to-face interactions happen or keeping them above one metre where possible
  • minimising singing and shouting, particularly face to face, where possible, or maintaining at least one metre distancing; back to back singing where possible
  • close cohort working and fixed groups/bubbles, maintaining distancing between backstage and front of house teams and avoiding prolonged contact
  • staggered arrival and departure times to avoid congestion
  • working with participants to refresh their memories on precautionary measures, and discussion of safety concerns
  • tight contact tracing procedures
  • physical distancing of at least one metre when not actively involved in rehearsal
  • face coverings worn at all times when not rehearsing or performing
  • the Federation of Scottish Theatre can provide further good practice guidance on health and safety including in relation to COVID-19 

Each venue and business will need to decide what specific actions should be taken to operate safely, depending on its nature and size, as well as the particular activities that are being carried out. Each setting is different, and each performance may also require separate considerations (for example, the difference between a standing audience and a seated audience). As the situation continues to change, so the level of risk associated with certain activities might change and regular reviews of processes will help ensure they remain robust. Risk assessments remain key to protecting staff and the public from harm.

Scottish Government guidance on steps that can be taken to ensure a safe experience is available. 

The Scottish Government’s guidance on safer workplaces and businesses sets out comprehensive advice on how precautionary measures and other safety measures can be implemented.


First published: 18 Aug 2021 Last updated: 3 Sep 2021 -