UK cinema owners have been lobbying hard for the government to relax its current two-meter social distancing guidelines in time for their re-opening on July 4, and today they are set to hear that their campaign has been successful.
PM Boris Johnson is expected to confirm that cinemas in England can re-open on that date in an address to parliament shortly, but crucially he will also outline that the country’s distancing rule will be trimmed to one meter, likely with caveats, after a review.
This is huge news for exhibitors. As one senior source outlined to Deadline this morning, the difference between one and two meter distancing will be stark in auditoriums. The likelihood is, with the current two meter rule in place, only every other row of seats would be able to be sold, with venues filling less than 25% capacity to remain compliant.
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If the rule is reduced to one meter, every row would be sellable, with distancing between individuals and groups along those rows, which would increase capacity up to as much as 50%. Simply put, that could be the difference between running a viable business or not once cinemas re-open in July.
The picture for the country’s independent venues is a little different. The relaxing of distancing will prove an economic boost as it will for multiplexes, but a source in that space said that there is still a lot of anxiety for indie operators, with safety concerns for staff and audiences potentially leading many venues to remain closed for a while longer. The fact that the summer is traditionally not the best time for indies anyway may make September a more likely date for re-opening, they said.
The global health community is divided in its advice on distancing, but The World Health Organization recommends a distance of “at least one meter” during the pandemic. The UK has been something of an outlier by embracing the two-meter standard, alongside the likes of Spain and Canada. With the virus receding in the UK, it is thought that a “one meter plus” rule would now suffice.
Scientists advising the government have recently suggested that one meter with added safety measures could be enough. “Where a situation means that 2m face-to-face distancing cannot be achieved it is strongly recommended that additional mitigation measures including (but not limited to) face coverings and minimizing duration of exposure are adopted,” a recent report published by the government read. How exactly those added stipulations will be mandated for cinema operators is not yet clear, but use of PPE is likely to be advised.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the country is on track for further lifting of lockdown restrictions. PM Johnson will make the announcement official at around 12:30 BST.
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