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Oliver Dowden warns it will be ‘challenging’ to get theatres reopened in time for pantomime season

The Culture Secretary has warned that it will be “challenging” to get theatres reopened in time for the Christmas pantomime season.

Oliver Dowden said he hopes outdoor performances can return “shortly” but warned that there remains a “real risk” of coronavirus transmission inside theatres.

It comes after he said “panto season was key” to the reopening of theatres following a visit to the London Palladium at the weekend.

Mr Dowden told Sky News on Monday: “The challenge is that we have lots of people close together, we have different generations – it’s granny through to baby.

“So we’re working through to look to see whether that is possible, but I don’t want to get people’s hopes up too much for that.”

When pushed to say how likely it was panto season could go ahead, Mr Dowden added: “I’m working intensively with Public Health England, with all of our scientists and if we can possibly do it we will.

“But I don’t want to set people’s expectations in the wrong place.”

Many companies have expressed concerns about the future of the theatre industry if additional support is not given to venues.

The Royal Exchange in Manchester announced last week that up to 65 per cent of its staff could be made redundant due to continued uncertainty around reopening dates.

Museums have also said they face an uncertain future, while 1,500 artists and acts signed a letter to the Culture Secretary calling for a road map for the live music industry.

Mr Dowden added: “I understand people’s frustration. They’re desperate for theatres to return, I’m desperate for theatres to return, but we have to do so in a safe way.”

The Culture Secretary explained that theatre performances without social distancing are “some way off”.

He said the reduction of social distancing rules, such as on planes, has only been implemented in “exceptionally limited circumstances” and insisted “slow and baby steps” must be taken.

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