Cinemas across England must continue to operate at reduced capacity for another month as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed a delay to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
The government has been signaling the delay for days as the Delta strain of Covid-19, first identified in India, becomes the dominant variant in Britain, with infections and hospitalizations creeping up across the country.
The June 21 unlocking, known informally as “freedom day,” would have removed “all legal limits on social contact.” It would have enabled cinemas, TV studios, and theaters to open at full capacity. Instead, they will have to wait at least another four weeks for full houses.
In a press conference, Johnson acknowledged it has been a “difficult choice” but he wants to give the UK health service “a few more crucial weeks” to get jabs in peoples’ arms. He said unlocking now could create the “very real risk that the virus outruns the vaccine” and thousands more might die.
“I’m confident we will not need more than four weeks and we will not need to go beyond July 19. It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine rollout has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” he added. “By being cautious now we have the chance to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”
It comes as the UK recorded 7,742 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, with three deaths within 28 days of a positive test. The seven-day average for cases was up 46% compared with the previous seven days.
The UK Cinema Association said: “While the cinema business model means that most sites can still operate viably at below full occupancy, the practical impact of current social distancing restrictions is that available capacity at each cinema site is reduced by as much as 75 per cent. The financial impact of continuing these measures is therefore undeniable.
“This further delay in returning to normal operating conditions demands that the Government looks again at the measures it has in place to support cinemas and other affected business sectors, and adjusts these to ensure that they are able to weather the challenges the next few months will now present.”
Performers union Equity described the delayed unlocking as a “catastrophic blow.” General secretary Paul W. Fleming called on the government to introduce grants for venues that can’t open at full capacity.
“They’ve had over a year to protect the industry which shut first and will open last. Not stepping up risks permanent damage to our economy, global standing and, most importantly, the art and entertainment audiences can access,” he said.
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