As cinemas reopen across Australia amid COVID-19, here’s how you can keep safe

With new films such as ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ and ‘The Invisible Man’ being released this month and some COVID-19 restrictions easing, Australian cinemas are hoping to see moviegoers back at the theatre.

However, with a second wave of the virus sweeping across various areas of the country, particularly Victoria, it’s understandable to be nervous about sitting in a room for two hours alongside dozens of strangers.

UNSW Medicine Professor Mary-Louise McLaws is an epidemiologist and advisor to the World Health Organisation’s Infection Control and Prevention Guidance Development Group for COVID-19.

According to McLaws, there are precautions that both the general public and cinemas can adopt as COVID-19 restrictions ease. These include hand sanitisation and maintaining 1.5 to 2 metres distance from others.

What can you do to keep safe?

“Patrons must [practice] hand hygiene on entry and leaving the foyer,” McLaws told HuffPost Australia.

However, if you line up to buy a popcorn and choc top combo once you’re in, don’t forget to reapply hand sanitiser as you “may have touched high-touched surfaces that may have become inadvertently contaminated”.

McLaws also advised staff to use a “wipe (at least 70% alcohol or a detergent wipe) over hard-surface armrests between sessions”.

Should I wear a face mask?

The consistent messaging by the Australian government has been that “the routine use of face masks in the community is not recommended” when the “rate of community transmission is low”. However, McLaws said taking extra precautions does no harm, and she would advise cinemas to ask patrons to cover their faces.

“All patrons must be asked to wear a mask or face shield and to refrain from speaking loudly, as this reduces the spread of particles, especially if their mask is a cloth mask,” she said.

“Patrons will speak while waiting for the movie to start and in line for tickets and food. The rationale is that it will enhance safety as there is lab-based and airflow modelling that without a mask you are at the same risk of exposure if someone is two metres [away] and coughs at you (it takes just a few seconds to get to you) as speaking to someone for 30 minutes at two metres distance.”

She added that indoor areas can carry a greater risk of contagion because there is no wind or sun that might mitigate the viral spread.

What are Australian cinemas doing to keep us safe?

Event Cinemas began reopening venues in the Northern Territory from June 25. This week it reopened 40 venues across New South Wales and Queensland.

The company has rolled out contactless booking and check-in services, cashless transactions on site, hand sanitiser stations, social distancing in the foyer and more frequent cleaning. It also is leaving empty seats between groups as tickets are booked.

“The wellbeing and comfort of our customers and teams is always our number one priority and as we reopen our doors we do so with these tailored sanitisation and wellbeing measures in place, so that movie lovers can return to our cinemas with confidence,” Luke Mackey, Event Cinemas’ director of entertainment for Australia, said in a statement provided to HuffPost Australia.

Hoyts also began reopening venues from July 2, with staggered sessions and similar sanitising and social distancing measures adopted by Event Cinemas.

“In addition to internal training on cleaning and hygiene protocols, HOYTS Cinema employees have also completed enhanced COVID-19 awareness training provided by the Australian Government Department of Health,” says a statement on the company’s website.

Meanwhile, Village Cinemas has confirmed in a press statement that all staff “have completed a new health and safety training program and will be required to undergo a health and temperature check before commencing their shift.

“Additionally, all staff will be provided with approved personal protective equipment.”

McLaws said cinemas should ask staff to wear a face shield or a breathable three-layered cloth mask.

“The WHO committee has not yet determined the efficacy of face shields worn without a mask, but this virus is mostly spread by large droplets, and therefore, if the shield comes around the side of the face and to the chin, it should provide protection indoors,” she explained. McLaws said lightweight face shields are reusable, too, and “are more comfortable than a mask for an 8-10 hour shift.”

Remember to check for the most up to date health advice for your state or territory before heading to the cinema. Information for each can be found here: each: NSW, ACT, NT, VIC, WA, SA and QLD.

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