In response to numerous media enquiries in the last few days, the UK Cinema Association today reiterated its opposition to any requirement that UK cinemas might be required to ask customers to ‘prove’ their COVID-free status when sites are allowed to re-open in the coming weeks.
The use of such certificates – or ‘COVID passports’ as they had been called in some quarters – to allow certain sectors to open up post-lockdown is currently the subject of a Government review.
In responding to the ‘call for evidence’ feeding into that exercise, and to numerous media enquiries as interest in this issue has grown in recent times, the UKCA has confirmed that there is widespread opposition and concern amongst its members about the notion that people might be required to show evidence of a COVID vaccination or negative test before being allowed into a cinema.
This is in the context of a sector which repeatedly proved its ability to operate safely in 2020 and where not a single case of transmission has been traced back to a UK cinema site.
The Association does not believe that it appropriate to ask someone to prove they have undertaken a medical procedure or to undergo a medical test to access what is supposed to be a place of entertainment and enjoyment. This would introduce a significant barrier between the sector and its customers at a time when members are trying to rebuild a business which has over the last 12 months experienced a massive financial impact, losing some £2 billion in income.
Even when the current vaccine roll-out is complete, there will still be significant numbers of people who will not have been vaccinated, including pregnant women, people with certain disabilities or underlying conditions, and young people aged 18 and under. Making ‘proof’ of vaccination a condition of entry to a cinema would also potentially introduce significant issues of discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010 and act as a disincentive for disabled people in particular to go to the cinema. Indeed, it could be seen by some as a hostile act towards that community.
The cinema audience is a disproportionately young one, with on average around a quarter of the 170 million cinema visits the sector was seeing pre-COVID undertaken by young people aged under 18. Requiring each young person to prove a negative COVID test would present a significant barrier and – not least given the numbers above – result in significant operational challenges.
That is quite aside from the costs involved, where responsibility is not at all clear.
The concern of the sector is that in seeking to impose this on the cinema and other related sectors, government will in effect give operators a non-choice between accepting something which presents all of the above challenges or continuing with the type of social distancing and other measures which – while they made sense before the vaccine roll-out – now make a sustained recovery by the sector much more difficult.