A Statement on Coronavirus [6 Mar]

CORONAVIRUS (Statement 6 Mar 2020)

There is naturally much discussion in every field of work and life at the moment about the potential effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. With so much speculation, conjecture and contradictory advice, this should be seen in the context of the latest information from the Government and the updates from the World Health Organisation.

In Outdoor Arts and the cultural sector in general there are obvious anxieties about the potential cancellation of events and the impacts this will have on all sizes of organisation.

  • At present there are no government ordered bans on live events, sporting or music events, public meetings or any other gatherings.
  • Furthermore, Live Music Intelligence reported on 2 Mar 2020 that “the deputy chief medical officer (CMO) said there is ‘no clear rationale’ for closing events in order to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, as has happened in other European countries.”

CONTRACTING

In the Outdoor Arts sector, given the time of year, the most pressing matter is around festival contracts and what will happen to those arrangements for both parties (artist/company and festival/booker) in the event of cancellation. There are obvious considerations around whether this becomes an official government decision or one that an organisation or company takes autonomously.

Many contracts contain a ‘Force Majeure’ which is essentially a ‘no-fault cancellation’ clause, removing obligations from both parties in the event of unforeseeable or exceptional circumstances – however this can be subject to interpretation. Force Majeure has been used in China where venues have been ordered to close.

  • When writing and negotiating contracts, we urge all parties to look carefully at Cancellation and Force Majeure clauses and consider negotiating terms which more equally share risk.

As well as payment of fees, there are, of course, issues for both festivals or companies around pre-booked travel, accommodation and other advance costs and arrangements.

  • In all contracts, be very clear with each other what you are offering in terms of fees, pre-paid expenses and other obligations – and be mindful that some insurance policies may be affected by the situation.

There is no specific guidance from the Arts Council England to their funded organisations, as such decisions are in the hands of the recipient organisations and the contracts they choose to adopt.

  • Consider sharing your own contractual solutions (via OAUK, if you prefer) to help other organisations develop the best solutions.

EMPLOYERS

The Independent Theatre Council has a useful summary of general advice, if you are an employer:

  • Develop a contingency plan: Assess the level of disruption that might be caused, this could vary from what happens if key performers or company members are taken ill to what to do about proposed or planned tours to countries where the virus is already a problem. Make sure you communicate the plan across your team.
  • Look after people’s health, well-being and safety: Communicate clearly to employees that they need to take precautions, avoiding travel to affected areas and/or coming into contact with infected or potentially infected people or animals. Advise them on what to do if they think they may have caught the virus, have returned from affected areas, or have been in contact with an infected person.
  • If employees need to self-quarantine or are sent home as a precaution, this should be done on full pay. Whilst some employment contracts contain a right to suspend employees briefly without pay this usually only applies in limited circumstances and a suspected illness is unlikely to be covered. Relying on this could lead to claims for breach of contract, unlawful deduction of wages or constructive unfair dismissal.
  • Consider using home working and video conferencing to prevent the spread of infection.

‘SENSIBLE ADVICE’

“Sensible advice from Production Services Association and the Events Industry Forum”

The Production Services Association issued advice to events professionals, following the conference call with the Government’s deputy chief medical officer.

I found it very useful and from a reliable source, as includes some clear points as part of its overall summary, including:

  • The most likely places for the virus to spread are in the home, at school or in the workplace.
  • It is highly unlikely people will pick up the virus walking in the street or shopping etc.
  • Transmission is generally by close contact.
  • Equally it is less likely they will pick the virus up at outdoor events than on a crowded underground or in a packed pub after a football match.
  • It is unlikely that the UK Government will follow others in banning events, such as football matches, as the risk of catching the virus is low and they are keen for people to continue to live their lives normally.

Stay up to date with news from the World Health Organization

Stay up to date with news from the UK Government

  • While it is a worrying and evolving situation, it is important that we don’t panic about where we are at present.
  • Of course, we must all keep vigilant and informed about the wider picture, but discussing these things particular matters together will provide much-needed clarity.
  • Please stay in touch.

Angus MacKechnie

Executive Director, OutdoorArtsUK