As the growing coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt film and television production across the globe, the South African industry is bracing for the impact of the virus’s spread as the government announced a raft of emergency measures, including a travel ban on foreign nationals from the U.S. and the U.K.
The ban cast a shadow of uncertainty over one of the world’s leading hubs for international film and television shoot, where studio productions, such as Sony Pictures’ Vin Diesel actioner “Bloodshot,” are a major source of work for local crew, contractors and talent.
Privately some South African producers said they’re racing to make sense of the fast-moving situation and bracing for a wave of interruptions to the thriving production services industry. Others, meanwhile, are showing resolve in the face of an unprecedented crisis.
“Our hope is that everyone will do their best to keep safe, to stop the spread of the virus and to keep dreaming of a better time ahead,” said Michael Auret, of Spier Films (“Escape From Pretoria”).
During a televised address to the nation Sunday night, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a “national state of disaster” as the country’s confirmed cases of coronavirus rose to 62.
The emergency measures he introduced include a travel ban on nationals from the U.S., the U.K., China, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Iran and Spain, while foreign nationals who visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will also be denied entry.
Schools across the country will be closed from Wednesday and gatherings of more than 100 people prohibited. South Africans returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to testing and self-quarantine, while non-essential travel outside the country is prohibited.
“We have decided to take urgent and drastic measures to manage the disease, protect the people of our country and to reduce the impact of the virus on our society and on our economy,” Ramaphosa said. “There can be no half measures.”
On Monday, Amazon Studios announced it was shutting down “Love Island France,” which was shooting outside of Cape Town, in the wake of the new measures.
“Following the announcement by the South African president that the country is now in a ‘state of disaster,’ Amazon Studios’ production of ‘Love Island France’ will end early,” said a spokesperson for ITV Studios France. “The health and safety of the production team, the contestants and all people involved is our utmost priority, so we have ended production on this season now.”
Thus far, it’s unclear how soon other international productions will follow suit. A spokesperson for BBC Studios told Variety on Monday that the studio’s biggest project currently shooting in South Africa, the forthcoming BBC America series “The Watch,” has been filming for several months and has thus far not been impacted by coronavirus, adding: “We will continue to review all productions on a case by case basis following the latest news and advice from the [U.K.] Foreign Office, World Health Organization and Public Health England.”
On Monday, the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) announced it was cancelling the upcoming South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs), which were scheduled to take place on March 27-28 in Johannesburg. For now, local cinemas remain open, barring more stringent measures to stop the virus’s spread.
In Sunday’s address, the president said the government will be working with the private sector to establish a nationwide tracking and monitoring system for all coronavirus cases, while the cabinet is finalizing a fiscal package to help deal with the economic fallout of the outbreak.
For small production companies and the freelance employees who make up a sizable portion of the South African film and TV workforce, the potential financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic demands strong intervention, said Auret.
“We recognize the steps already taken by the South African government to contain the spread of disease as very positive, so that we can get over it as soon as possible,” he said. “But we hope that measures will also be put in place to support vulnerable workers in the film and TV industry and all vulnerable persons by suspending mortgage, rent and other bill payments for three months so that people can have disposable income to buy food and medicines they may need.”
He added: “We hope that governments will continue to take all measures to stop the spread of the virus as quickly as possible, and to support economically vulnerable people in the manner that they once did for banks and bankers.”