Northern Ireland’s biggest movie theater chain has introduced a mandatory “seat separation” policy, along with other measures intended to counter the growing spread of the coronavirus.
A statement released Tuesday evening by Omniplex said that “after a thorough risk assessment and analysis of the global cinema market,” the company would leave every second cinema seat unoccupied in an effort “to encourage effective social distancing in cinemas.”
The number of cases of coronavirus in Northern Ireland rose to 18 on Wednesday, with two new cases confirmed by the government.
Omniplex director Paul John Anderson said the policy adhered to guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization, which suggests one meter of separation between individuals in order to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
“This means we’ve reduced our overall capacity by 50%, and we hope this move will give cinemagoers peace of mind when attending the movies,” he said.
Across its 15 locations in Northern Ireland, Omniplex will also introduce more frequent cleaning, hand-sanitizing stations in every cinema foyer, and self-scanning of tickets.
Elsewhere in the U.K., theater operators remain vigilant, although no widespread measures have been taken by the industry as of yet. “We are monitoring the situation and keeping in contact with government guidance, to which U.K. cinemas will respond accordingly,” said Phil Clapp, president of the U.K. Cinema Assn., which represents theater chains such as Odeon, Picturehouse and Vue. (Omniplex is not a member of the association.)
“In line with the advice given following the meeting of the government’s [Cobra] committee this week, all sites will remain open and operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis.”
Also on Wednesday, Poland, India, Lebanon and Kuwait announced they would be entirely or partially closing cinemas in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, joining a list that includes key markets such as China, South Korea, Italy, Japan and France.