Following the UK government’s go-ahead to start reopening cinemas from 4th July, a 29-page document called ‘Cinemas – keeping workers and customers safe during Covid-19’ has been published detailing safety guidelines that should be adhered to in England during the pandemic.
The UK Cinema Association and the Department for Culture Media and Sport are behind the new guidelines, with help from the BFI Screen Sector Task Force, the Independent Cinema Office, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive.
The document recommends that queuing should mainly take place outside, where patrons should use hand sanitiser before entering the building. When inside, there should be clear floor markings of at least 1m per new social distancing rules. No pick ‘n mix should be available, but popcorn etc can be bought on site, with protective screens recommended between servers and customers.
In your screening, other customers should be seated at least 1m away from your bubble, and certain cinema staff will be assigned ‘social distancing champion’ roles to oversee this going forward. The guidelines do not state any cap on capacity, but should distancing measures be met, your screening is likely to max out at around 60% capacity.
Increased, frequent cleaning of cinemas and their screening rooms will be implemented, and any coffee shops or restaurants that were formerly a part of any cinema will stay closed for the time being.
Additionally, don’t expect any singalongs or musicals for a while. In terms of programming, cinemas are asked to be “mindful” of scheduling anything that might get audiences shouting, singing or dancing, and having the volume too high in screenings would be inadvisable, as the risk of COVID-19 infection increases with elevated aerosol transmission.
Per the guidelines: “Being mindful of – and avoiding – programming film content which is likely to encourage audience behaviours increasing transmission risk. All venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people needing to unduly raise their voices to each other.
“This includes – but is not limited to – refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting or singing, including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission – particularly from aerosol transmission… You should take similar steps to prevent other close contact activities – such as communal dancing.”
One of the more contentious parts of the document refers to the use of face masks, which will NOT be mandatory upon reopening:
“When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.
“It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small, therefore face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing.
“These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace and government would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments.
“Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. If you choose to wear one, it is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. You should be prepared to remove your face covering if asked to do so by police officers and staff for the purposes of identification. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.”
The ball is now in the court of independent cinemas and chains to make firm decisions on mandatory face mask use during screenings, and the public’s response to these guidelines is likely to be a key factor.
Will you be going back to the cinema in July? If not, what rules would have to be in place for you to consider it, if any?