The current restrictions have had a "devastating impact" on the cinema industry in Ireland, according to the director of an Irish cinema group.
Mark Anderson, director of the Omniplex Group - which includes 18 Irish cinemas - told BreakingNews.ie that the 8pm closing time has caused huge problems for cinemas.
"An 8pm closing for cinemas really means a 5.30pm closing time. Unlike for a pub you can’t nip in for a quick movie. All of our shows have to be finished by 8pm, when you take in adverts and trailers the films have to start by 5.30pm."
Mr Anderson said cinemas had "just about" been getting by over the Christmas period as parents took children to matinée showings.
"Although it was a major hit to our business, we traded respectably at about 55 per cent of what we normally would have done in the Christmas period pre-Covid. Since the kids went back to school on January 6th the bottom has fallen out of the market, no weekday business at all in the industry where revenues have dropped by 90 per cent."
A number of Irish cinemas have taken the difficult decision to close until the restrictions are loosened, which could take place next week with Cabinet set to consider the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) advice after the group's meeting on Thursday.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract people and retain people in this industry.
Mr Anderson said Omniplex cinemas have stayed open to keep staff working, however, this has not been without difficulties.
He said continual restrictions over the past two years have made it difficult to attract and retain staff.
"We're staying open to maintain the link with customers and employees to ensure that when the restrictions are eased the industry is in a position to reopen fully without too many operational issues. It’s certainly not sustainable and if it goes on any longer many cinemas in rural Ireland may have to close.
"In terms of career path, cinemas, and pubs and restaurants, are being seen as high risk in terms of career paths for attracting people to these industries because when lockdowns do come they’re seen as the first to go. It’s two years now we’ve been dealing with ongoing lockdowns and restrictions, how can we attract people to our industry for careers in the knowledge that we cannot guarantee they’ll have employment if lockdowns are brought back in at some point?
"It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract people and retain people in this industry. It’s becoming a critical issue for the whole nighttime sector."
He feels cinemas should have been differentiated from pubs and restaurants, as the space and social distancing in cinema makes it a "safe indoor setting".
"Formal indoor settings like cinema have very strict social distancing measures in place. Reserved seating, automatic separation of groups, it’s a non-alcoholic environment, and with all Covid protocols in place. It’s not something every business can do, but it’s now standard in cinemas that there’s reserved seating, in my view it's the safest form of indoor activity. That really should be heralded and promoted by Government to promote these safe indoor activities rather than informal domestic settings where there are no controls and there’s less Covid provisions than a formal setting.
"We need to migrate away from the old reliables in future lockdowns and promote safe indoor activities into the future. Omniplex have stayed open with as many staff as we can to retain the link with our employees. There’s no reason why these restrictions can’t be lifted before the end of January.
"The Government needs to go a step further to ensure industries that lockdowns will not be the first port of call in the future, so businesses can have some confidence. It’s my view that the 50 per cent capacity limits are less onerous on the cinema industry than the 8pm curfew."
While questions are often asked about the future of cinema in the era of streaming, Mr Anderson has no such doubts.
He pointed out that blockbuster films like the latest James Bond have driven record profits for cinemas, and he feels they will be able to bounce back quickly once restrictions are lifted.
"The cinema is a product led industry so the films being released this week will have a life span of four to six weeks in cinemas. There’s a great slate of new films being released in February which will help to drive the industry. Once those restrictions are lifted I’ve no doubt customer confidence will return quickly.
"In October, films like No Time to Die and Venom drove the business to new record levels, and again in December with Spider-man, the appetite out there for big blockbuster movies is insatiable. There’s a lot of blockbusters due out in 2022 exclusively in cinemas.
"Streaming is a passive viewing experience, you can pause it, make a cup of tea, come back the following day. Cinema is an active form of viewing, it’s completely different, and I don’t subscribe to the view that you can have only streaming and not cinema, you can have both.
"There’s enough interest in both and while the worry post-Covid may have been that people wouldn’t come back to cinema, well No Time to Die and Spider-man are just two examples that show people want to come back and love the cinema. The last 15 years Ireland has the most cinema visits per capita in Europe, and I’ve no reason to believe that is going to change."
Mr Anderson feels Government need to consider the risks of different venues when it comes to any future restrictions.
He pointed out that there have been no recorded Covid outbreaks from cinemas in Ireland or the UK.
"There’s always going to be a place for cinema, both rurally and in urban arwas. What we need from Government is a commitment that cinema will not be the first to sacrificed.
"We’ve been told to follow the science, there hasn’t been one outbreak from a cinema setting in Ireland or the UK for that matter, if that isn’t proof enough that cinema is a safer environment I don't know what is. Cinema is being lumped in with other industries that can’t provide for the same level of safety, it’s just not logical.
"In a cinema nobody is face-to-face, everyone is the same direction, at different levels, sitting down. Most cinemas are new buildings with the most modern ventilation, everything is in favour of cinema being a safe indoor environment. The Government need to look at the risks and specifics of each indoor activity rather than just painting all indoor with the same brush."