Covid: Wales cinema rules 'impractical and unnecessary'

By Nelli Bird
BBC News

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image captionIt is "not viable" for small cinemas to open under current rules, says UK Cinema Association boss

Only a "small minority" of cinemas in Wales will be able to reopen next week under current restrictions, according to an industry trade body.

Confirmation is expected on Friday that cinemas can reopen from 17 May.

But the UK Cinema Association said regulations were different in Wales to the other nations, with venues following the same, stricter rules as indoor hospitality.

The Welsh government said cinemas would open "when safe to do so".

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the association which represents 90% of the industry including big cinema chains, said because many cinemas were licensed for the sale of alcohol it meant Welsh officials had "lumped them in" with pubs and restaurants.

He said the rules in Wales differed to England and Scotland in three ways.

Under Welsh government guidelines the following rules will apply to cinemas:

  • Customers will have to be seated while ordering and buying food and drink
  • Even if customers use the QR code system to "check in" and register their details, they will still have to be collected by the venue
  • The venue is also expected to verify details by asking people for photo ID, for example a passport or driving licence
  • The time customers leave the cinema will also have to be recorded
image copyrightPhill Clapp
image captionMr Clapp said cinemas reopening was "much anticipated" but some venues have to have a "serious rethink"

Mr Clapp said the rules were "impractical and unnecessary".

"So even if a customer just walks up to a concession stand to buy a tub of popcorn, they have to be seated," he said.

"For many of the smaller venues there simply isn't the space for that kind of seating.

"And it will cause queuing and all manner of problems which we presume these restrictions are intended to avoid."

Cinemas in Wales have been closed since 4 December with a return now much anticipated, according to Mr Clapp.

"I would say the mood in the industry is one of frustration, you know, there is a huge amount of excitement and optimism about the return of cinema," he said.

"Finding an administrative barrier to that late in the day and unnecessarily we would say, in terms of the safe-guarding of customers and staff, is hugely frustrating."

Which cinemas are staying shut?

Mr Clapp also said while cinemas were selling tickets for showings from next week, the likes of Cineworld and Showcase had said they would not be able to open, with Vue and Odeon having a "significant rethink" on whether they can reopen.

Cineworld has venues in Llandudno, Broughton, Cardiff and Newport, while Showcase has a single cinema in Nantgarw.

Vue has cinemas in Rhyl, Carmarthenshire, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Cwmbran and Swansea, and there are Odeons in Wrexham, Llanelli, Swansea and Bridgend.

Mr Clapp said the rules were also a "nonsense" for the many smaller venues in Wales and the issues around collecting contact details and being seated for food were "magnified" for them.

He continued: "I very much fear that when we come to next Monday, even if cinemas are allowed to open, only a small minority of cinemas in Wales will feel they can viably reopen."

'It is not financially viable to reopen'

image captionBeth Watkins has decided not to open her cinema in Brynmawr and is frustrated to be classed as hospitality as they do not serve alcohol or hot food

Beth Watkins is chair of the trustees of the Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr - which has been closed since mid March 2020 and has not set a date to reopen.

She said: "Most disappointingly for us is the fact that small independent cinemas, and many of them are charities like us, are being included in hospitality.

"We don't have a bar, we don't serve alcohol, we don't serve food but we still fall within that category.

"Organising for someone to be able to order a box of popcorn or a bar of chocolate from their seat is impossible for us.

"Social distancing means that out of our 195 seats around 40 tickets can be sold. So for us it is not financially viable to reopen. You build your hopes and then suddenly you're hit by this red tape."

'A very difficult situation for us'

image captionSteve Reynolds said there is a lot of interest in getting back into the cinema with 750 tickets sold for just one film

Steve Reynolds is director of Picturedrome Cinemas, which runs the Maxime Cinema in Blackwood, which will reopen on Monday.

He said: "When we were told cinemas could open we put our programmes on sale and we've sold 750 tickets so far just for Peter Rabbit without the other films.

"Obviously we've got this obstacle now with the food and drink which has to be delivered to the seats. We are looking at ways around that - click and collect where you can order when you reserve your tickets but it's a very difficult situation for us."

image copyrightSionk/Wikipedia
image captionChapter Arts Centre will reopen both its cinemas on Monday at about 30% capacity, if permitted

Chapter Arts Centre, in Cardiff, will reopen its cinema at about 30% capacity on Monday, if permitted, its chairwoman Elin Wyn told BBC Radio Cymru's Dros Frecwast programme.

Ms Wyn said the anticipated rules would not affect Chapter as much as the bigger chains because it had never allowed customers to eat or drink inside its two cinemas.

"The thing that would make the biggest difference for us, is if they decided to relax the 2m rule," she said.

"If they took it down to a metre or got rid of social distancing altogether - that's what would really change things. We could then get more people into our cinemas."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDue to different rules across the UK, cinemas in Wales are classed as hospitality and must abide to same rules as pubs and restaurants

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We have been working closely with Ffilm Cymru and UK Cinema Association to prepare for the opening of cinemas when it is safe to do so.

"Contact tracing is an important and effective part of keeping people safe.

"Cinemas have been and continue to receive support from the Welsh government's Culture Recovery Fund (CRF). Those within larger arts centres may also have received assistance from the CRF delivered via the Arts Council of Wales.

"The first minister will set out the results of the next coronavirus restrictions regulations on Friday and confirm whether cinemas can reopen in Wales next week."

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