By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo
Since Covid-19 hit, almost everything that was banned or had restrictions placed on it is functioning or have had its restrictions eased. No, not cinemas; they are still shut, much to the chagrin of cinema operators, movie stakeholders and cinema lovers.
The concerned parties of cinema were highly expectant prior to the 25th Covid-19 update by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, but after the address, all of such high expectations fizzled.
The President disclosed that the Ghana Health Service (GHS), and the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), would in the coming weeks announce the modalities for the re-opening of cinemas.
He stated that the operators of cinemas would have to comply fully with the agreed modalities and protocols before the industry will be reopened and that, the protocols are critical to ensuring the safety of patrons and all involved in the industry.
According to the President, in a move towards the reopening of cinemas and theatres, the government has engaged cinema owners and operators on a set of protocols and guidelines that need to be put in place and implemented by all operators before the eventual re-opening.
He also said that, in the coming weeks, the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Tourism Authority will be announcing these protocols and mandatory modalities, and work with the operators on a set of directives that will ensure the health and safety of all patrons and staff in all the facilities involved.
It may sound like good news, but in a bid to wrap your mind around it, it is frustrating to note that, it has taken government and its agencies over a year to come up with modalities in re-opening cinemas.
What is even more frustrating is how other entities and businesses have been operating with such ease, whether approved or unapproved, yet, one of the most critical elements in the film sector and for that the creative industry is still on the table of discussion.
What’s happened Elsewhere
Once a source of collective entertainment and escapism – cinemas across the world are now seen as petri dishes for the virus. Regardless of the effects, cinemas across some developed countries with well-structured cinema culture have eased restrictions and opened cinemas.
Most of the cinemas across the world opened last year, just months after the pandemic hit including cinemas in the United States which has some of the operators of highest number of theatres across the world, AMC – which welcomed movie-goers back into the cinemas way back in July 2020.
In Europe, most countries opened their cinemas including 95 percent of cinemas in France, which were reopened in June 2020, and in Italy, one of the countries that was heavily hit by the virus, opened cinemas steadily in July 2020, starting with close to 40 cinemas, where officials studied the impact before allowing more theatres to open to the public.
In the United Kingdom, cinemas have been allowed to open July 2020, under a phased plan to return to work, although there were still around 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day. 50 cinemas opened on their opening weekend, just nine percent of the country’s total, increasing steadily along the line.
What’s happening in Ghana?
The situation in Ghana is simple; cinemas remain closed, until the coming weeks!
It is mind-boggling how pubs and bars across the country are inundated with revelers constantly since the easing of restrictions on such hangouts. It must be said that some of these hang-outs do not even adhere to safety protocols and many, if not all patrons, do not wear masks and do not abide by social distancing.
Word had it that, the government was willing to open the cinemas but lacked the assurance from cinema operators with regard to the compliance to safety protocols including social distancing, provision of water, soaps for the washing of hands and the constant disinfection of the halls after every showing.
According to sources, some of these directives, especially the regular fumigation of the halls every two (2) hours is something that sounded laborious and expensive for such operators.
There’s also the case of economic viability. The operators were said to have also analyzed the cost of resources that would be pumped into the compliance of safety protocols as compared to the estimate of revenue that could be generated. To them, the prospects of re-opening with regard to economic gains look bleak.
Thankfully, there seems to be some headway in all of these.
The Swedish Report
The Scandinavian State of Sweden had such an interesting tale in the midst of the pandemic.
While movie theatres across the globe, from China to the US, were shut down during the coronavirus pandemic and arguments erupted as to how and when to reopen, Sweden was never nonplussed as its cinemas remained open all along.
Operating under new government guidelines with 47 cinemas and about 200 screens, the country’s second-largest cinema chain, Svenska Bio stayed operational – and as a result, became Europe’s biggest operator by Box Office revenue.
New rules meant no more than 50 people in the auditorium and by choice, the operators’ halved theatrical occupancy. Hand sanitizing, washing and social distancing were paramount in the adherence to safety protocols.
There should no cause of alarm
There’s little evidence establishing movie theaters as a source of outbreaks, even before social distancing practices were widely implemented. While that doesn’t mean they carry no risk, public health experts say the likelihood of contracting the virus while movie-going is probably lower than that of many other indoor activities.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, a renowned facility in the US says that, in a setting where we’re not talking, we’re just passively breathing and wearing masks, it might be a safer bet than a noisy, crowded bar. The facility continues to state that, at movie theaters, if you’re not eating popcorn, you’re just sitting there with your mask on.
It adds that, because theatergoers all face the same direction that, too, reduces the chances of person-to-person transmission, as long as they’re still social distancing.
Cinemas in Canada required moviegoers to purchase tickets in advance on line. In France, attendees were required to wear masks in public areas until they are seated, and they are required to sit separately. On top of that, epidemic prevention information is shown on the screen before the film starts. In South Korea, food is not allowed in theaters, seating capacity is capped at half, masks must be worn, and attendees’ temperatures checked. Meanwhile, in Singapore, a cinema hall can only have a maximum of 50 people, and a distance of a meter must be kept between different groups of moviegoers.
While things look to be moving at a glacial pace, filmmakers can be generally optimistic about the prospects for the industry’s recovery. The resumption of cinema could be the first step, as regaining the confidence of movie-goers as a return to the pre-pandemic market may require more time.