England’s biggest theatres including the Royal Opera House, the National and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sites in the West End have implemented mandatory mask-wearing as owners respond to the threat of the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
Theatregoers have not been required to wear masks but owners are moving to make them a compulsory requirement after the government’s decision to make face coverings mandatory in shops and on public transport from this week.
The Royal Shakespeare Company was the first to make the move, announcing on Monday that face coverings are now required at its theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, except for those under 12 years of age or those who are medically exempt.
Other theatres followed, with announcements from the National, which requires masks to be worn in all areas of its building on the South Bank in London, the Royal Opera House, the English National Opera and the Old Vic.
Lloyd Webber’s West End theatres also moved to mandatory mask-wearing, having previously operated a policy of requesting, but not enforcing, that theatregoers use face coverings.
The RSC said that the impact of implementing the new policy has so far been limited, with only 30 people asking for refunds or to exchange tickets for a future show of the 6,000 who had booked to see its current production, The Magician’s Elephant.
Theatre owners are set to keep the policy in place until at least 19 December, the date the government has set for a review of its guidance on face masks.
People who are not wearing a face covering can be fined in the form of a fixed penalty notice and ordered to pay £200.
Under the current government mask-wearing rules, hospitality venues remain exempt, including pubs, restaurants and cafes.
The advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell has criticised the government for a lack of guidance on masks, saying that it should be extended to settings including restaurants, hotels and events and conferences.
“Mask-wearing, I think, to some extent helps, and we are just not implementing it and people are not taking the measures,” he said. “We should be very cautious at this particular point in time, I think.”