By Tony Winterburn • 17 March 2020 • 13:36
Major chains, including Odeon, Cineworld and Picturehouse, as well as BFI Southbank, the screening complex operated by the British Film Institute, have announced they are closing their doors with largely immediate effect.
London’s West End theaters are following the lead of Broadway and closing because of the dangers of coronavirus. Shows in the British capital and elsewhere in the country are being cancelled, both theatrical and musical.
The announcement came after the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised against theater visits because of health dangers. Some entertainment professionals said that whatever the danger to life from COVID-19, he was also killing off the cultural industry.
Cineworld, the UK and Ireland’s largest chain by market share with over 90 venues, said in a statement: “We are committed to providing safe and healthy environments for our employees and guests and have therefore made the difficult decision to close our cinemas in UK and Ireland until further notice.” Its venues in Ireland are due to shut today, and its UK sites on Wednesday. The chain also owns the Picturehouse circuit which operates smaller cinemas with boutique-style programming, which is also being closed.
Odeon, the UK’s second largest operator, posted a statement on social media saying: “Following government guidelines Odeon cinemas are closed until further notice.”
BFI Southbank, located in London, said in a statement: “It is with great regret that, due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, and following Government’s updated advice on 16 March, we have taken the decision to close BFI Southbank effective immediately, and all forthcoming events and screenings are now cancelled or postponed.”
Phil Clapp, chief executive of UK Cinema Association, the trade organisation for cinema operators, said: “The priority now is to ensure that the thousands who work in the sector, many of them young people, are helped during what will be an exceptionally challenging period for them, and that cinema venues across the country are supported to overcome what for many will represent an unprecedented challenge to their existence.”
Box office figures for last weekend in UK cinemas had remained reasonably solid in the face of increasing warnings. Figures released by media agency Comscore show that cinemas took just over £6m from Friday to Sunday, only slightly under the lowest figure for a single box office weekend in 2019.
Speaking during his first daily news briefing on Monday, Mr. Johnson said the government advice was that “public venues such as theatres should no longer be visited”.
He added: “The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already.
“As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don’t believe it will be necessary to use those powers.”
Mr. Johnson said that from Tuesday mass gatherings were something “we are now moving emphatically away from”.
He also said people should now avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others.
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