The Czech Republic has become the first European country to set a date for cinema reopenings, with tentative plans in place to open doors on May 25.
On April 14, the government announced a staged approach to the loosening of restrictions, with June 8 given as the initial date for theaters to open, with attendance limited to 50 people. However, the government has changed its schedule, with a representative for the Ministry of Culture confirming to Variety on Tuesday that cinemas can now reopen two weeks earlier, on May 25.
According to the Brussels-based International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), the body that represents European movie theater owners, the directive makes the Czech Republic the first European country to set a firm date for cinema reopenings.
The government representative cautioned, however, that the Ministry of Health is taking the lead, and it may reconsider its plans if infections begin to rise again.
The Czech government has already eased restrictions on parts of its society and economy. Places of business and retail stores up to 26,900 sq. ft., gyms and libraries are now open, and religious services are permitted up to a limit of 15 people.
On May 11, shopping malls and business premises over 26,900 sq. ft., restaurant gardens, beauty salons, museums and galleries can open. On May 25, restaurants, hotels and theaters will open, and cultural and sporting events will be allowed.
Some doubts remain about the government’s intentions, but the film industry is working to the May 25 date nonetheless. Ivo Andrle, who runs Czech distributor-exhibitor Aerofilms, told Variety: “The situation is very dynamic, so anything can change anytime. But as of now, the industry is getting ready to reopen the venues on May 25.”
A separate government representative told Variety that following a debate Tuesday in the Czech Parliament on the national response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government may rethink its plans, with a decision due on Thursday.
UNIC reports that less than 2% of the 42,000-plus screens in Europe are currently open, with only Sweden and Belarus allowing cinemas to operate.
The Czech Republic declared a state of emergency on March 12. Over the following days, schools and universities were closed; all sporting, cultural and religious activities were banned; retail stores, except grocery stores and pharmacies, were shut; and movement was limited to travel to and from work, and shopping for essential items.
The country has escaped the worst of the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 7,449 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 223 deaths from the virus, with just two deaths reported on Tuesday.