Amid concerns over the coronavirus spread, and along with the cancellation of the Sydney Film Festival, there have been some cinema closures in Australia, while iconic TV soap Neighbours has temporarily shut down production.
In the case of the former, Melbourne-based exhibition chain Palace Cinemas has said it will shutter all of its locations from tomorrow (March 19) for an indefinite period. The group operates 20 sites across the country and made the “difficult decision” to close following new directives from the Oz government.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office issued measures today that include restricting “non-essential” indoor gatherings of more than 100 people. Outdoor events of less than 500 attendees are still allowed to proceed.
“The states and territories will give further consideration to practical guidance and rules for non-essential indoor gatherings of fewer than 100 people (including staff) such as cinemas, theatres, restaurants/cafes, pubs, clubs, weddings and funerals,” the government said. This information will be considered at the next National Cabinet meeting which is due to take place on Friday. “In the meantime, these venues should continue to apply social distancing and hygiene practices.”
It is currently unclear if bigger chains Event Cinemas and Hoyts are closing their auditoriums. However, the latter has introduced in-cinema seat separation as it recommends social distancing. Smaller circuit, Dendy Cinemas has also not announced closures, but said on its website that along with having already reduced capacity, it has implemented staggered seating and will release screening times on a daily basis given the uncertain nature of the situation.
Australia is a major market, and box office is sharply down in the early part of March as compared to last year. Elsewhere, U.S. chains went dark this week while majors in the UK announced closures on Tuesday, joining key European markets like France, Spain and Italy.
Meanwhile, production on long-running soap opera Neighbours — which helped launch the careers of such stars as Margot Robbie and Guy Pearce — has been halted amid the pandemic. According to 10Daily, Network 10 and Fremantle Media said today that the show would take “a short break to ensure the production model in place can withstand any potential impact of the current COVID-19 situation.” The break is currently due to last only until next Monday with no interruption to the broadcast schedule.