England will effectively return to a pre-lockdown tiered system, except that the tiers will be much tougher this time around. The U.K. government has published a winter plan that allows cinemas to reopen in the lower tiers 1 and 2. However, under tier 3, the highest, the plan states: “Spectators and audiences will not be permitted at sports events or live performances (unless these events are drive-in), business events should not take place, and indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, theaters, bowling alleys and casinos must close.”
The UK Cinema Association, which represents the country’s cinema operators, condemned the new plan, noting that it “contrasts” with the government’s previous position, which allowed cinemas to operate safely with some restrictions in all three tiers.
Commenting on the announcement, UK Cinema Association chief executive Phil Clapp said: “Today’s announcement makes absolutely no sense if the intention is to tackle and prevent local COVID-19 lockdowns. This association and its members have worked extraordinarily hard — in consultation with Government — to put wide-reaching safeguarding measures in place in all U.K. cinemas.
“Not only are these appreciated by audiences — with our latest industry survey suggesting that 93% of returning cinema-goers reporting that they had felt safe during visit — but more importantly have resulted in no recorded cases of COVID-19 being traced back to the cinema,” continued Clapp.
The executive notes that as Christmas approaches, the continued survival of many cinemas is becoming “all the more challenging.”
“It is heart-breaking to note that within days of Warner Bros. confirming the release of ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ on December 16 – only the second tentpole release since March, Government seems needlessly to have put another barrier in place to the sector’s recovery,” said Clapp. “We would ask that this decision is reconsidered as a matter of urgency if we are not to see further damage done to the U.K. cinema sector.”
Despite the UK Cinema Association’s consternation at the government’s latest strategy, Variety understands that some chains are currently weighing their options around reopening doors post-lockdown.
Although “Wonder Woman 1984” will be released in theaters internationally, where HBO Max isn’t yet available, exhibition bosses are questioning whether the tentpole is worth the cost of retraining staff and getting operations underway again, only to face another dearth of fresh releases until months into the new year. “If it’s a flash in the pan, it’s a question of whether you open up or not,” remarked one senior executive.
Under the new winter plan, gyms and non-essential businesses will resume, as will outdoor sports. Elite sport, such as premier league soccer, will continue to be permitted in all tiers.
Pubs will remain closed in tier 3 areas. They will be allowed to stay reopen in tier 2 areas if they serve meals. The closing time of 10pm has been amended to a last order time, after which customers can remain for an hour. Specific details around which areas fall under which tier will be announced later this week.
Addressing the House of Commons virtually, as he is self-isolating again, Johnson said, “This is not a pandemic without end.”
Film and TV productions, however, continued under strict COVID-safe guidelines.
The U.K. has recorded 18,662 new cases and 398 deaths in the last 24 hours. Of these, 16,668 are in England, 844 in Scotland, 808 in Wales and 342 in Northern Ireland. There are now more than 1.5 million cases recorded in total, and deaths have crossed 55,000.
Despite the grim numbers, the mood across the country is upbeat due to the rapid emergence of vaccines that could possibly quell the virus. After the successful trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both of which claim 95% protection, Monday brought news of a homegrown vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca that is up to 90% effective.
The U.K. government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and AstraZeneca will produce three billion doses for global dissemination in 2021.
“As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as soon as possible,” Johnson said.
Wales went into a fire-breaker lockdown Oct. 23 and came out of it Nov. 9. Northern Ireland’s lockdown was lifted Nov. 20 but the territory will be locked down again for two weeks from Nov. 27. Restrictions continue across Scotland.
Manori Ravindran contributed to this report.