Liverpool’s nightlife in doubt as questions raised over testing

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A leading figure in Liverpool's nightlife industry has questioned 'how it could be possible' for clubbers to take rapid Covid tests in order to go out.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that rapid coronavirus tests could possibly be used in the reopening of theatres and nightclubs.

When answering questions on the prospect of a '"vaccine passport," the Prime Minister said quick tests could be used by "those parts of the economy we couldn't open last year".

He said: "That, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward."

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But he stressed it was "still early days," with "lots of discussions still to be had".

Liverpool's nightlife industry has suffered terribly during the pandemic, with some nightclubs being unable to open or trade at all in months due to social distancing restrictions.

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The Prime Minister's suggestion could offer hope to some struggling venues in the country, but some have been quick to question how practical his suggestion really could be.

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John Hughes has been a major figure in Liverpool's nightlife scene for 37 years now, and as chairman of Pub Watch and Liverpool Nightlife CIC, he works with nightclub and pub owners in the city centre.

While desperate to welcome customers back, John said he couldn't see Mr Johnson's suggestion working.

He said: "When it comes to big nightclubs, I've seen the queues and I really don't know how it's possible to do lateral flow tests.

"If you get everybody turning up between 11pm and 1.30am, I just don't know how you can physically do lateral flow tests for literally over 1,000 people.

"Where do you put them while they're waiting to get their results? Do you say to someone: 'Here's your test, please stand over there'?

"In the night time, how would you know who you've tested? It's a logistical nightmare.

"And although, really, we want the clubs to be open as soon as we can, it just physically can't be done. Imagine on a cold night and it's windy or raining and you're trying to do tests on people?

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"It's the cost of it as well. It's the cost of how many more staff you're going to have to employ to do it. I'd be very surprised if it comes into practice for the clubs."

John said he's worked on schemes in the past which involve offering tests to members of the public before, but said it had its own complications.

He said: "We've done pilot schemes before with the police where we've done ones with breathalyser testing.

"That was a scheme called 'Drink Less to Enjoy More'. We've also used cocaine torches once to check on people, but that in itself is difficult.

"You've got a big queue and the main aim as a business is to try and get as many people as possible into the venue so they can start spending money. But in this day and age, it's all about checking ID's, doing your pat-downs, making sure no one is carrying any weapons."

Workers in the nightlife sector have suffered devastating consequences as a result of the pandemic, as social distancing measures stopped people flocking to Liverpool's famed club scene.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) recently made the bleak prediction that 80% of the country's clubs would not survive past February.

The sobering scenario comes as the NTIA warned that without "urgent" action, 2021 will see the "extinction" of these businesses.

Reflecting on a difficult year, John said hospitality workers have done their best to try and follow the Government's guidance and have worked hard to create Covid-secure environments.

He said: "For us in the hospitality, it's like the onus is on us to be the ones to do everything. All the PPE and procedures put in place costs money, it's all been costing the venues a lot of money.

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"Most of those venues are about 60-70% down. We all wanted to create that space where people felt they were safe to be able to come.

"People had to buy furniture, but I don't think people realised how much it cost. All the bars are racking up rent arrears and there's only been a few landlords who've been kind to people, a lot of them are saying they're going to tag it on when things get back to normal.

"It's alright saying 'when we open up,' but it's if they can survive."

In response to the NTIA's plea, a Government spokesperson said: “We understand these are extremely challenging circumstances for businesses, particularly nightclubs. The current restrictions are essential so we can control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

“We have put in place one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of business support in the world, worth £280 billion.

"This includes a one off grant of up to £9,000, monthly grants of up to £3,000, various loan schemes, a business rates holiday, as well as the extended furlough scheme.”

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