Published: December 15, 2020

Doctors of piping: Top physician-pipers on pipe bands’ return from COVID-19 – Part 2 (video)

We continue our look into the complicated considerations and parameters faced by pipers and drummers, associations and event organizers regarding pipe bands getting back to the business of competition and public performance.


Doctors of piping: Top physician-pipers on pipe bands’ return from COVID-19 – Part 1 (video)
December 14, 2020


Part 2

The uptake in vaccinations relies on cooperation from the general population. No one will be forced to be inoculated, and that might present liability problems with associations trying to put on events.

“Of course there are always dissenters, anti-science minded individuals, and anti-vaxxers,” Feeney points out. “Hopefully, those people don’t equal 30% of the population, or if the latest election is any indicator, they actually may exceed 30% in the US. Once band members have had their second vaccine, I’d think it would be safe to return to in-person band practices. So that will vary depending on the population – careers, pre-existing conditions, comorbidities and so on in the individual bands. That’s a tight schedule for the early championships, but might be doable for the World’s. The UK will be a little quicker. Canada may also be quicker with a smaller total population. Australia and New Zealand have had good overall control, and as a result, their vaccinations may be delayed even beyond the US.”


“I fully anticipate that, once a COVID vaccine is universally available, airlines will require proof of vaccination or prior infection to allow travel.” – Dr. Martin Docherty


Dr. Lachie Dick is less optimistic: “I really don’t see there being a pipe band season for 2021. Given the numbers of people involved, I think it will be a stretch to have 40,000 people in Glasgow Green in eight months’ time. I can’t see it being easy for foreign bands to make a trip as well. We may still have limitations on travel, quarantine may still be in place. It might be able to happen in theory, but I think the reality will be very different. Maybe solo piping events could be held later in the year. Clearly, the number of people involved is fewer so that would be in its favour.

“My prediction would be for no pipe band competitions, but maybe [some solo competitions] once the vaccine has been rolled out and hospital admissions/deaths significantly reduced. Maybe I’m just being a pessimist, of course, but I think we all thought we would be having a ‘normal’ Christmas when this all started earlier this year.”

Dr. Robert Gray concurs: “Even if the World’s goes ahead on a smaller scale, will bands want to take part if they can’t prepare adequately? Will some bands be tempted to break the public health rules to get a head start? Does this mean it would be far more sensible to manage expectations now and at best plan for a very scaled-down version that might not happen? Absolutely.”

“The mantra from governments in the above countries was that we need to protect the vulnerable,” Docherty says. “Once the vulnerable populations are vaccinated, it’s going to be difficult for governments to continue their reason for significant lockdown. My gestalt is that the World’s in August is a safe ‘go.’ The RSPBA is correct in going forward at this time. Things, of course, could change. I think that if viral numbers are falling by April, overseas bands can make plans to attend the World’s. Again, country quarantine rules, if any, by midyear, play a big role. The other big player are the airlines. I fully anticipate that, once a COVID vaccine is universally available, airlines will require proof of vaccination or prior infection to allow travel. Individual countries, the same. It’s is a fluid situation. Bottom line, I think the World’s in August, is achievable.”


“Someone gets sick and contact tracing traces it back to a pipe band contest, what is the liability to the organizers? What would the legal ramifications be?” – Dr. James Feeney


Feeney reminds us that it’s not as simple as picking up instruments and hitting the contest field the next week: “Bands have not been able to perform, do gigs, organize concerts, dinners, and Burns’ nights, to raise the funds. Many bands-people are also financially handicapped after the pandemic: gig pipers have had only sporadic performances, others have lost jobs. 2021 may be a wash again, unless bands have money in the bank, or an independently wealthy patron to bankroll them. Plus, don’t forget the liability. Who knows what the liability for food services, beer tents, stewards, and others will be. Someone gets sick and contact tracing traces it back to a pipe band contest, what is the liability to the organizers? What would the legal ramifications be?”

Getting back at it will take widespread, even universal cooperation. Bands and associations and even event organizers might well require members and patrons to show proof of vaccination before allowing individuals to participate. A vaccine “passport” has been discussed in countries hard hit by the virus.

“Indoor band practices are the biggest risk until we have low community levels of virus and adequate numbers vaccinated,” Gray says. “When I think back to an average Thursday night Boghall practice back in the day, we would have over 100 people mixing in and out of a school, bands of 20-plus mixing for one to two hours in close social contact, and this is before we even consider any droplet issues. There is no magic bullet here such as a canister system in a bag, or everyone wearing personal protection equipment. The major issue is the social mixing of numerous households.

“The feasibility of contests will be ultimately be driven by the public health situation as we enter the spring but until then we are in the dark. Even then social mixing for multiple households will be the defining factor for bands who want to prepare for these contests, and much as we might want to think that all of this prep could be done online and out of doors, I think that is unrealistic.”

There are so many moving parts, and the situation is fluid, news and conditions changing literally every day. All four piper-doctors agree that it will take time and patience. Perhaps the best thing to do is expect the worst and hope for the best. The effects and damage that COVID-19 has done to the pipe band world will be felt for a long time.

“With the vaccination program we will move back to normal, but it won’t be immediately,” Dr. Gray adds. “Will the pipe band season be an even close to normal one? I think highly unlikely. My personal preference would be to ensure that the first priority for bands and solo piping is making sure we support the junior players and the Novice Juvenile bands. If we managed to have some outdoor events for them with limited audiences then that would be the major first win. Take that and build from there.”

Our thanks to Dr. Lachie Dick, Dr. Martin Docherty, Dr. Jim Feeney and Dr. Robert Gray for sharing their expertise and time to this important discussion.

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