COVID19: Is the world ready to dance again?
12 min read
12 min read
by Aleksandra Stamatović
Let’s face it – everyone likes to let loose from time to time. Some like to do so on a night out with friends where music is blasting and they can dance all night, while others like to enjoy a pleasant conversation with their friends over some beers. Regardless of the preferred way to let go and enjoy ourselves, it is certain that these activities are almost a necessity.
With the pandemic of coronavirus, all the lockdowns, a variety of preventive measures mandated by governments across the world, and a tidal wave of negativity and gloom that practically washed all over us, it’s safe to say that the eagerness and sheer need to let go for a night or two is almost palpable.
In this article, we will check in with party-goers, organizers, and nightlife across the globe, particularly focusing on some of the major party spots, such as Berlin, Paris, New York City, Washington D.C, Athens, and Singapore, in an attempt to see whether the world is ready to officially start dancing again.
After months at a standstill, clubs in Germany are finally open for business again. Although, it goes without saying that this particular return to nightlife is gravely overshadowed by the happenings in Ukraine.
In September 2021, the clubs in Berlin were allowed to reopen temporarily, people were lining up and waiting patiently, not showing signs of concern about coronavirus. Soon after that, the new wave, marked by the omicron strain of the virus, hit Germany. Still, clubs in the capital were allowed to stay open, and then in December 2021, the Senate in Berlin imposed a somewhat controversial ban on dancing. Clubcommission then conducted a survey which has shown that almost 80% of club operators and promoters question said that after this ban they decided to remain closed throughout as it didn’t make much sense to keep the clubs going.
That’s why the clubs opening their doors right now, at full capacity, without mask requirements or any distancing rules (let alone a ban on dancing) is big news for Berliners and tourists. The only remaining requirement is for people to either be vaccinated or to have recovered from Covid-19 and to present a fresh negative test.
Reopening in spring has a dose of optimism engraved in it since the pandemic has shown to be prone to taking a turn for the worse during winter months.
Under different circumstances, the news of clubs opening and restrictions being lifted would be a good enough reason to rejoice but amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, the longed-for return to once we once knew as normal seems to have put a damper on the party.
In an interview for DW, a chairwoman of the Berlin Clubcommission, Pamela Schobess, stated that all the eagerness ahead of the grand opening feels ultimately strange. Still, she continued, not opening is just not an option.
European clubbing scene was hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions, and even if it may appear a bit out of place given the moment, it still provides an outlet for people to escape the harsh reality, news floods, and images of horror for a few hours.
Some even say that the reopening has come at the perfect time since it is the nature of club nights to make people come together, let off steam, act out emotions, exchange ideas, and escape the loneliness.
There is a dose of uncertainty still, the club scene is already trying to look ahead, to the next fall and then winter, wondering if they will bring the closures back if the number of infections starts rising again or a new strain of the coronavirus hits us.
Berlin had introduced special Covid-19 financial support, and according to Pamela, in part, thanks to exactly those benefits, the members of the association were able to keep their venues afloat during the extremely tough months that are now behind us.
Aside from worrying about potential closures, the war, and the virus, clubs are also facing an additional layer of challenges, including the assessment of how to attract young people into clubbing again and whether the older audience will stick to their newly developed routines and skip the wild partying altogether.
Lastly, the venues are in desperate need of more staff, given that many have decided to leave the nightlife industry and have already found new jobs.
As Pamela says, clubs are the first to close and the last to open, making it extremely hard to keep the business going. And as the recent past has taught us, it’s really difficult to plan for the future when the situation can take a turn for the worse almost overnight.
In Singapore, everyone is hastily getting ready to fully reopen bars, pubs, karaoke establishments, discotheques, and clubs starting from April 19th, as the city-state moves forward with its plan to ease Covid-19 measures.
According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Ministry of Home Affairs, all visitors to the venues that involve dancing activities will need to show a negative rapid antigen test, before entering.
Since the pandemic began in 2019, this is Singapore’s biggest move yet towards relaxing restrictions and reopening nightlife, thus re-energizing both businesses and their clientele. This trend of relaxation was being introduced gradually starting from late March 2022, with tweaks to eating out at restaurants, entering the country, and mask-wearing while outdoors.
The partygoers in Singapore can be optimistic since the country, according to their Health Minister, Ong Ye Kung, won’t need to tighten Covid-19 measures even if the number of infections starts rising, since their health care system is expected to be able to cope with this scenario.
Coronavirus pandemic, Year Three, but in Washington D.C. the night scene looks pretty much exactly what it looked like in 2019. Long lines of partygoers waiting to sip on cocktails, show off their recently perfected moves, and are eager to feel the positive vibes each night out carries naturally.
In an interview for Washington Post, Guillermo Roa, the GM at El Techo, a rooftop cocktail bar in the Shaw neighborhood, expressed his view on the outlook for nightlife concisely:
“It’s like, this is it. It’s over. There’s no going back anymore”.
It almost looks like people are tired and they have been tired for a while now. Tired from hearing about the virus, tired of all the negative news, restrictions, lockdowns, and newly-imposed rules over their everyday life. And as one of the interviewees in the same piece explained: “It’s almost like a big tidal wave is about to wash ashore”. People are feeling that the tiredness may go away now, and it’s high time everyone got their freedom back, which, naturally, gets to be celebrated by going out, poring some liquor, and dancing the night away.
No one can tell for sure but with the coronavirus infection rate trending down in Washington, and the government changing their guidance and easing requirements, may turn out to be the official back-to-normal moment but there are still fears that it could also turn into yet another fleeting phase in the pandemic.
One thing is for sure, after almost two years, in which elected and health officials were the ones calling the shots when it comes to what can be open and at what times, who needed to get vaccinated, where people needed to wear a face mask, the shot-calling in D.C. has officially fallen into the hands of individuals or households. This current situation is embodied in the city dropping the requirement for vaccination proof before entering indoor public spaces and yet many bars and restaurants have indicated that they intend to resume enforcing their own rules for their customers and staff.
Like most cities, Athens was also hit by the omicron variant of coronavirus as the year 2021 was slowly ending its scene. This spurred an immediate introduction of restrictions, which were especially aimed at nightlife, given the regular festivities that take place in the winter months.
In January, however, according to Reuters, Greece has decided to allow music in restaurants and bars again, as well as extend operating hours to welcome their guests.
Just one month prior, the country has forced nightclubs, restaurants, and bars, to close at midnight, and ban music or standing customers.
More recently, Greece has become one of the first countries in the EU to ease its entry rules, ditching the passenger locator form that travelers needed to fill out before entering the country. Still, proof of being fully vaccinated, having recovered, or getting a negative test is required for those planning to enter Greece any time soon.
When it comes to daily life, they also lifted the rule that mandates wearing masks outdoors and even indoors but from June 1st. Access to restaurants, cinemas, and nightclubs still remains dependent on having proof of vaccination or recovery, and this restriction will be in place until April 30.
Therefore, anyone looking for a proper Greek-style night out still needs to act following the rules that are still in place. But those who are vaccinated or have recovered from coronavirus are free to syrtaki the night away. Opa!
NEW YORK CITY
Going back to the United States, let’s take a look at the world’s most famous city and its nightlife at the moment. On March 4th, indoor vaccine mandates were lifted for the NYC bars and club owners who have immediately witnessed huge lines and a serious spike in liquor sales. To their surprise, people are waiting in line almost every single night, no matter if it is on a Monday or a rainy day even.
Billi Hilroy, owner of Employees Only, a bar on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, said in an interview for NY Times that the surprising uptick in bar visitors will hopefully mean that the spring and summer will be fully packed.
Delighted by the crowds, nightlife owners are keeping their fingers crossed that this is a sign of the end of the coronavirus pandemic, which has destroyed their industry. The number of clubs and bars that had to close during the past two years is sky-high and bar owners who are still open and on their feet are pretty much on the edge of their seats, traumatized by the restrictions and the speed at which the situation can change almost overnight.
There’s one thing they can be happy about for sure, establishments that survived are altogether reporting sales increases of around 30% compared to the same exact period in 2019. According to Abraham Merchant, the owner of several bars among which Ophelia Lounge and Treadwell Park, they have seen a double-digit jump in sales and he is convinced the main driver of this incredible spike is the pent-up demand.
There are mixed feelings about the long lines, with some being disheartened by having to wait, while others perceive it as a crucial part of the fun. Some are cautious about celebrating too early, knowing full well that a sudden appearance of a new variant of coronavirus could easily put the locks back on all these places.
The feeling of elation is in the air for sure and the unknown remains to be the fact that this moment of euphoria can either last, being the light at the end of a two-year-long tunnel, or just another temporary break.
Jean Castex, French Prime Minister, announced that clubs in France are set to officially reopen starting from February 16th, 2022. That was one of many glimpses of hope for the club owners, desperately waiting to welcome the partygoers. They kicked this plan to start easing coronavirus restrictions off relying on the use of the newly introduced Covid-19 vaccination pass, thus making all other proofs of vaccination or recovery irrelevant. The change came about in a bid to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Their Health Minister, Olivier Véran, stated then that the pass system may end up being shelved in the near future if the infection rates and the number of hospitalizations start dropping.
In December 2021, France put a lock on nightclubs, initially for a minimum of 4 weeks, resulting in disappointment over New Year’s Eve and Day party cancellations. And after this, the ruling was actually extended through January 2022 as the number of infections continued to soar.
As of mid-March 2022, mask-wearing is no longer mandatory indoors in Paris, with public transport being an exception to this new rule.
The infamous vaccine pass, which caused quite a stir when it was introduced, ended up being suspended on March 14th, as well. This practically means that the Parisians and all their fellow tourists can enjoy a wave of freedom that seems to have officially washed ashore in Paris, just like it has done the same with other metropolises.
The official ruling is that the party will go on but it remains unknown whether coronavirus will hit the pause button any time soon.