The UK government is placing London into its strictest coronavirus lockdown tier from Wednesday (December 16), meaning businesses including cinemas will need to close again, after a spike in positive cases across the capital city.
A four-week nationwide lockdown was lifted at the beginning of this month and replaced by a three-tier system, with tier 1 requiring the loosest virus preventative restrictions and tier 3 requiring the strictest.
Reacting to today’s news, which will see around 100 cinemas re-shut across the capital, the UK Cinema Association said the move would be “devastating” for its members and suggested theaters were being harshly treated in comparison with other businesses such as shopping centers.
Other parts of the country including sections of Essex and Hertfordshire will also be moving from tier 2 to tier 3.
London was initially put in tier 2 at the beginning of December, which meant cinemas were able to re-open for the last two weeks, albeit with restrictions including distancing and early closing times.
At the time, organizations including the UK Cinema Association fired a critical response at the policy, claiming that cinemas had put effective safety measures in place and should be allowed to resume business regardless of the tier.
Today’s update means London joins major UK cities including Birmingham and Newcastle in being subject to the strictest rules.
The news will be a further blow to cinemas hoping to make some money back in the typically lucrative lead-up to the Christmas holiday period, with Wonder Woman 1984 available to program from December 16, even if Warner Bros’ decision to put the movie directly online means most multiplexes won’t partake. Major exhibitor Cineworld, which also runs the Picturehouse Chain, has previously confirmed it will be keeping venues shut until March due to the lack of available titles.
The UK is scheduled to see a five-day relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period to allow families to travel across tiers and mix up to three households. However, the lifting of those restrictions is not expected to impact businesses such as cinemas, which will need to remain closed.
Reacting to today’s update, Phil Clapp, CEO of the UCKA, said:
“UK Cinema Association members with sites in the capital will be devastated by today’s decision to place London into the VERY HIGH (‘Tier 3’) Alert level. That will be not so much by the decision itself – the UKCA and its members have been and remain supportive of steps to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 – but because the resultant closure of over 100 cinema sites in the capital will, while causing significant economic and community damage, not actually making any contribution to efforts to tackle the virus.
Like those in the rest of the country, cinemas in the capital have worked extraordinarily hard to safeguard audiences and staff alike. It is worth stating again that as a result not a single case of COVID has been traced back to a UK cinema. Yet those sites will be required to close when non-essential retail – where safeguarding measures are undoubtedly less exacting – will be allowed to remain open.
To take one obvious example, this means that while retailers in Bluewater and both Westfield centres at Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford will be packed with shoppers, the socially-distanced and air-conditioned cinema sites in those shopping centres will be required to remain closed.
The decision is of course all the more heart-breaking in that it comes in the week that Wonder Woman 1984 – only the second major title since March – is released into UK cinemas.
These latest developments only underline the need for all cinemas to now receive targeted financial support from Government if they are to survive COVID-19, something which is the focus of our Keep the Magic Alive campaign, launched earlier this month.
While finance made available through the Culture Recovery Fund in England and associated programmes in the devolved nations has been very welcome, this has only in the main benefited smaller operators, even here the question must now be whether that support will be sufficient. But for the larger operators who make up 80 per cent of the sector, they have not so far seen such funding, although their needs are no less acute.”