With the Covid-19 Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) decision to finally allow movie theaters, arcades and other leisure activity destinations to operate across areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) come March 1, SM Cinemas — the country’s largest chain of movie houses — reiterates its readiness to open on Monday with careful implementation of health and safety protocols.
The IATF had initially given cinemas permission to reopen as early as February 15 but Metro Manila mayors were apprehensive given a number of confirmed cases of the new Covid variants emerging then. Allowing leeway and additional time for the local governments (LGUs) to form operational guidelines for cinema operators, the agency duly moved the big day to March 1.
‘Service to community’
In an email interview with The Manila Times Entertainment, SM Supermalls President Steven Tan confirmed the company’s active and conscientious participation in discussions and meetings with their cineplexes’ respective LGUs in the lead up to Monday.
“We are working closely with the IATF, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Health and local government units (LGUs) on the reopening of cinemas in the National Capital Region and other areas where we will be allowed to operate,” he averred.
With capacity as the foremost concern by all parties involved, Tan noted that the number of people allowed to watch a movie at one time is dependent on respective directives set by each LGU.
“We are also closely coordinating with Cinema Exhibitors Association of the Philippines (CEAP) in making sure that we are compliant with all the safety regulations. Aside from that, we are prepared as well for regular audits and monitoring when the cinemas reopen,” he continued.
Asked how the closures affected business since the pandemic began almost a year ago, Tan replied that SM Cinemas certainly suffered huge losses in revenue. In an effort to avoid retrenchments, they had to designate employees — these are ticket booth agents, cinema operators and cinema snack bar workers, among others — in different posts across SM Malls just so they can keep their jobs.
“Even as we [have been able to] operate cinemas in modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) areas, we are certainly not making up lost revenues of 2020,” Tan furthered without disclosing the specific figures.
All the same, he describes the reopening of cinemas in GCQ areas as “a service to community,” explaining, “[We are doing so] to give livelihood to our cinema employees.”
Since the crisis began, the company also organized financial assistance for many of their workers besides trying their best to re-assign them. It was already late in 2020, back in October, when some SM Cinemas were permitted to reopen in MGCQ areas like Rizal, Laguna and Cavite.
Zeroing in on the health and safety protocols across all their cinemas come Monday, Tan assured, “The safety of our moviegoers will always be our top priority.”
In fact, even before IATF’s greenlight for March 1, the cinema chain has consistently been preparing for the eventuality, designing and training to implement strict safety protocols in their movie houses.
“[For the longest time no], once we [had] the go signal to open more cinemas, we were ready and prepared to welcome back our moviegoers as these strict safety protocols have already been in place,” Tan stressed.
“For [the public] to have a safe and fun movie watching [experience] in the new normal, we are following directives of Cinema Exhibitors Association of the Philippines (CEAP) with regard to the safety protocols for our employees and customers within our premises.”
The specifics are as follows: Employees are required to have temperature checks and accomplish health declaration forms before beginning each shift. Employees are required to sanitize and wash their hands every 30 minutes. Employees are required to wear face shields and masks in cinema premises at all times.
Sanitation and wipe-down of all surfaces are to be performed before every screening, besides deep cleaning of auditoriums before and after each day of business.
Guests are also required to have temperature checks and accomplish contact tracing forms before entry. They must wear their face shields and masks at all times. They are not allowed to bring any type of food and drink inside the cinema.
Comfort rooms can only accept 50 percent at any one time with sanitation carried out every hour.
Finally, and more importantly, a one-seat or two-seat apart rule is mandated inside the auditorium depending on LGU rules.
Tan specifically thanked the Manila City Government’s offer to provide cinema workers free swab testing to ensure they are Covid-free once movie theaters reopen in the SM Malls under their jurisdiction.
“We welcome Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s plan and thank him for his support of the cinema industry,” the company president expressed. “As for the rest of Metro Manila, SM will coordinate closely with the LGUs regarding their testing protocols and comply strictly with their directives.”
Finally, Tan happily shared with The Manila Times Entertainment that movie producers are likewise eager for the reopening and already making plans to show more films in cinemas in the coming days.
“Movie producers and film distributors have a lot of movies in their inventory waiting for release, and they’re making plans to produce more [titles],” he enthused.
Asked if cinema operators are worried about competition from thriving subscription-based platforms, he confidently replied, “While online streaming platforms is an alternative to watching movies, we believe that cinema exhibition can co-exist given the difference in motivation and experience provided by each of the two platforms.
“Producers are still making movies that are experiential and best viewed on the big screen. And we know there are countless movie buffs out there who can’t wait to come back to SM Cinema, and we promise them our best safety and cleanliness standards,” he ended.