South African producers are demanding an “urgent all-industry response” to the threat posed by coronavirus, with a leading industry body calling for a coordinated plan from broadcasters and government agencies to address the potential economic fallout of the global pandemic on the local film and TV biz.
The Independent Producers Organization (IPO) sounded the alarm in a statement this week, declaring that the industry had to move swiftly “to protect the cast and crew’s health…and minimize the impact on their financial well-being.”
The organization, which represents hundreds of independent film, TV and video producers, stopped short of calling for an immediate shutdown, saying its members were “mindful of the economic implications of suspending or cancelling a shoot.”
However, the group said it doesn’t see “how productions can continue indefinitely as the epidemic escalates.”
“Action is required today to reduce the exponential risk in virus spread,” read the statement.
The IPO said it has asked South African broadcasters how they plan to soften the financial blow for the creative industry workers who would be affected by a potential work stoppage, but thus far no “clear policy” has emerged.
While production is grinding to a halt across the globe, it’s largely been business as usual in South Africa, with production on most local shows continuing apace.
Public broadcaster SABC has said it will postpone upcoming shows that make use of live performances or studio audiences beginning in April, but it hasn’t yet halted production on its wide range of scripted drama series, daily soaps and talk shows.
Joe Heshu, group executive for corporate affairs of the MultiChoice Group, said the South African media giant is encouraging “all production companies to take every precaution to protect both cast and crew as we all grapple with the pandemic,” adding: “We have noted how production has been impacted in other markets and are assessing the impact in ours.”
Broadcasters are stepping up measures to sanitize and disinfect studio lots and other facilities, while also limiting the number of outside guests and encouraging remote meetings among their employees when possible. But for some in the industry, such precautions aren’t enough.
“We need an urgent and rational resolution of the matter that is not done at the expense of our fledgling industry,” said producer and director Rehad Desai (“How to Steal a Country”). “We cannot be held ransom by broadcasters who are seemingly saying they bear no responsibility in this matter.”
South African movie theaters meanwhile remain open, with leading cinema chains Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro saying they had introduced stricter hygiene measures and were capping theater capacity at 100 people.
On Wednesday, however, the city government in Johannesburg announced it was closing public facilities in South Africa’s economic hub, a measure that includes libraries, swimming pools, stadiums and sports facilities.
Local officials also said they would “strongly encourage” cinemas, bars, restaurants, and other businesses “to immediately cease operations” in order to halt the virus’s spread.
South Africa earlier this week declared a national state of disaster, with the government introducing a ban on travel from a number of high-risk countries, including the U.S. and U.K., while shuttering schools and banning gatherings of more than 100 people.
As of Friday, the confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa had risen to 202, with health officials warning the virus could wreak havoc if it begins to spread in the country’s poor, densely crowded townships.
According to local media, the government is planning to announce an economic stimulus plan for small and medium-sized businesses of R1 billion (around $57 million). However, no specific measures have been announced for the creative sector, where many gig workers are particularly vulnerable to an economic downturn.