The Curzon cinema chain is considering offering movie-goers the option of attending screenings reserved exclusively for customers who have proof of a Covid-19 vaccine – alongside screenings where no jab is required.
The announcement came as debate intensified over whether venues such as pubs and nightclubs will require customers to be inoculated. Philip Knatchbull, the chief executive of the 21-strong Curzon chain, said giving customers a choice would avoid having to impose a blanket rule, which could trigger legal issues around discrimination.
“Personally I am not a supporter,” said Knatchbull. “It is extremely difficult to monitor and more importantly it would prejudice against the minority of people who don’t get a vaccine. We may get around that by having some screenings where people may need proof of vaccination and some that don’t. We are trying to think how to make our customers comfortable and how our brand should be best reflected by offering flexibility.”
He said he was in talks with the UK Cinema Association, which represents most of cinema owners across the country, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and that Curzon has yet to come to a final decision.
Under Boris Johnson’s roadmap to ease coronavirus restrictions through the summer cinemas will be allowed to reopen from 17 May, unless the pandemic situation deteriorates. The prime minister has set a target of vaccinating every adult by the end of July. However, certain groups will miss out, including women who are pregnant and children, potentially making them ineligible for entry to venues if a blanket ban is imposed.
The biggest three UK cinema chains – Cineworld, Vue and Odeon – all declined to comment specifically on whether they are considering offering separate screenings.
Knatchbull’s tentative plan may provide a workable blueprint for the wider industry, which is against being forced to check vaccination status and bar people from entry.
There is “widespread opposition” across the industry to the idea that people might be required to show evidence of a vaccination or negative test before being allowed into a cinema, the UKCA said.
“Even when the current vaccine rollout is complete, there will still be significant numbers of people who will not have been vaccinated,” said Phil Clapp, the UKCA chief executive. “These include 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 will potentially introduce significant issues of discrimination under the equalities act 2010.”
He added that such a system would also make the financial recovery of the cinema sector, which at the start of last year comprised almost 850 cinemas across the UK, much more difficult.
Their pandemic-enforced closure for much of last year resulted in admissions in the UK slumping to the lowest level since records began in 1928. Similarly, the box office take in the UK and Ireland totalled just £307m last year, a year-on-year decrease of more than 80%, the lowest take in three decades.
The parlous state of the industry was highlighted on Thursday when Cineworld, the largest cinema operator in the UK and second biggest globally, reported a record $3bn (£2.2bn) loss for 2020.