Oxford’s nightclubs are preparing to reopen for what has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’, as restrictions on social distancing are lifted from 19th July.

In the latest briefing from No 10, Boris Johnson announced his plans to go ahead with the final stage of England’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions on 19th July. This final stage of the Government’s roadmap entails an end to social distancing requirements and the ‘rule of six’.

Nightclubs and other venues have either been closed since the pandemic began or have been forced to operate at a limited capacity. Plush Lounge, the LGBTQ+ nightclub, reopened last August but was forced to operate on a table-service basis, with fewer people inside. However, with the changes promised for 19th July, nightclubs in Oxford are preparing to replace their tables with the dancefloor once more.

Whilst the announcement this week was welcomed by the night-time industry, their reaction was marred by an enduring sense of uncertainty. Nightclubs have been told that they have to wait until Monday 12th July for final confirmation of stage four of lockdown easing. This leaves them with only a week to properly prepare for their reopening, should the changes go ahead.

Nick Triggle, the health correspondent for BBC emphasised the unprecedented nature of the plans for 19th July, writing that: “No country in the world has attempted to lift restrictions like this…” in the face of the emerging Delta variant. 

This uncertainty follows a year of instability for the nightlife industry. The Deltic Group, which owns Atik in Oxford, was reportedly on the brink of administration last December. Peter Marks, the CEO of The Deltic Group has been pleading with the government to adequately support the sector since last August. 

A survey by the Night-time Industries Association (NTIA) revealed that 58 per cent of businesses in the night-time economy feared for their survival last August unless they received further support.

Paul Williams, at The Bullingdon nightclub on Cowley Road, told the Oxford Mail: “We’re opening at one minute past midnight on July 19 and we’ve then got two weeks of events – most of which are sold out already.” 

Bridge’s ‘MNB Presents The Return’ event, planned for 19th July, has also sold out. Venues across Oxford are anticipating similar scenes to that of Mr Williams,who told the Oxford Mail: “At one minute past midnight everyone’s going to be partying.” 

In the face of the reports this week from the Office for National Statistics that the UK is experiencing a marked increase in cases, there are worries that the government’s roadmap will be delayed again. This follows the previous delay of lockdown easing, which had been scheduled for 21st June.

Cases have been particularly high in Oxford. The city has been declared an Enhanced Response Area, meaning it will receive support from the Government to carry out more tests and vaccinations. People living in Oxford have been advised against travelling outside the city, to avoid spreading Covid-19.

The emergence of the Delta variant has cast a shadow over 19th July. The Freshers’ Representative for St Catherine’s College, Jodi Coffman, told Cherwell that: “Given how transmissible the Delta variant is, especially amongst university students, there is a concern that cases will be high during freshers week.” Many college representatives are making contingency plans to prepare for the introduction of new restrictions, and the potential closure of clubs. 

Despite this uncertainty and the danger of the unknown, club owners and clubgoers are eagerly anticipating 19th July.  Coffman told Cherwell: “There is excitement especially amongst second years who didn’t get a normal freshers week.” Events to constitute a ‘refreshers’ have been planned for second years who missed out, alongside typical freshers’ club nights, in early October.

Image: Long Truong via unsplash.com

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