English cinemas to axe self-serve pick ‘n’ mix and singalongs when they reopen

Self-serve pick ’n’ mix and singalong screenings of musicals are out in new coronavirus safety measures agreed by the film industry and government to allow cinemas to reopen safely next month.

The 29-page document published by the UK Cinema Association, with input from bodies including the Health and Safety Executive, applies only to cinemas reopening in England from 4 July. However the guidelines are also being used as a framework for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The new 1-metre physical distancing rule means cinemas will be able to fill about 50% seats. Under 2-metre constraints many faced a 25% limit.

The guidelines call for the staggering of film times to reduce congestion, contactless transactions for food and drink, and online booking.

In some circumstances, filmgoers may be required to queue in car parks. To minimise contact the guidelines state that safety measures may include “using outside premises for queuing where available and safe”.

Once inside, customers will greeted by “social distancing champions” who will outline the new rules.

Filmgoers will be barred from the guilty pleasure of a visit to the pick ’n’ mix. Cinemas have been told to remove all open, unpackaged, self-service confectionery to reduce the risk of transmission. However, some chains intend to offer pre-packaged pick ’n’ mix bags over the counter.

Films that encourage people to “unduly raise their voices” are prohibited, including “playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting or singing”, which rules out screenings for popular musicals such as Mamma Mia! and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “This is because of the potential for increased transmission, particularly from aerosol transmission,” the rules state.

For those venues that provide alcohol, the guidelines advise considering additional controls on purchase or consumption to “manage the risk of alcohol impairing social distancing”.

While face coverings are required on public transport, their use in cinemas, by staff or customers, is not mandatory. On Wednesday, Cineworld workers petitioned the chain to make customer face coverings compulsory.

The guidance states: “When managing the risk of Covid-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because Covid-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through use of PPE.

“These other measures remain the best ways of managing risk in the workplace, and government would therefore not expect to see employers relying on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of their health and safety assessments. Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace.”

However, the guidelines state that if staff want to wear face masks then employers should be supportive. There are no separate rules relating to cinema-goers, so it is expected they will not have to wear them.

“The UK is a nation of film lovers and cinemas have a special place in our hearts and in towns and cities across the country,” said Caroline Dinenage, the minister for digital and culture.

“Throughout this crisis, we have worked closely with our world-leading screen industries to provide access to support and plan for the future. This guidance will be instrumental in helping us get audiences back in front of the big screen from Saturday 4 July.”

Vue and Cineworld plan to start opening cinemas from 10 July. Odeon, the country’s biggest chain, will reopen 10 of its sites on 4 July with a nationwide staged rollout throughout the month.

Cinemas do not have any Hollywood releases available on 4 July to entice customers to return. Instead they are relying on a library of 450 older hits and classics that have been put together by the Film Distributors Association for UK chains to use.

These include Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Singing in the Rain to more recent hits such as the Harry Potter, Back to the Future, Twilight and Fast and the Furious franchises.

Films that were released shortly before lockdown in March will also get an extended run, including 1917, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Military Wives andParasite.

However, some big releases are planned for the end of the month including Disney’s Mulan on 24 July and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on 31 July.

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