UK Cinema Owners Firmly Against Use Of Covid Vaccine Certificates

UK cinema owners remain staunchly against the idea of adopting Covid-19 vaccine ‘certificates’, which would confirm that an attendee has been inoculated, despite the idea gaining some traction with the government.

A report today in national newspaper The Guardian quoted Philip Knatchbull, the CEO of UK cinema chain Curzon, as proposing the idea of having both vaccine-only screenings and screenings where no jab will be required for entry.

Knatchbull confirmed to Deadline that vaccine certificates are “just one option we are considering” and that “it is not viable to continue with blanket social distancing measures indefinitely”.

“Regardless of which route we take, we will always provide options for those people who cannot be part of the vaccination programme,” the Curzon CEO added.

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However, execs at other cinema chains are unanimous in their take – venues will only be adopting the use of vaccine certificates as a last resort.

“It’s not feasible,” put one executive at an indie chain bluntly. They questioned how the system would be enforced, whether it would be discriminatory, and pointed out that larger businesses in other sectors have also rejected the idea.

Mark Cosgrove, who runs prominent indie venue Watershed, told Deadline that his site is against the use of certificates because they would put an additional burden on staff at a time when employee numbers have been reduced, that they would not be inclusive and could have a significant impact on vulnerable groups including disabled people who are unable to be vaccinated, and that it would likely have a further negative impact on cinema finances.

This week, PM Boris Johnson backtracked on his previous anti-certification stance, indicating that the government was exploring the idea for pubs. He told reporters on Thursday that “there is going to be a role for certification” and that it might be feasible to implement a certificate scheme “when absolutely everybody has been offered a vaccine”. The hospitality sector largely responded negatively to the suggestion.

The cinema biz is widely taking the same stance. Phil Clapp, chief executive of industry body the UKCA, told Deadline that for “ethical, operational and equality reasons” his association and the “overwhelming majority” of its members are firmly opposed to the idea.

“While it will be for each company to decide its approach, we are not aware of any who are actively considering separate screenings for those with and without a Covid certificate,” he commented.

UK cinemas will be able to reopen on May 17 and plans are being drawn up for how the return to business will work. At present, there is no consensus on the use of virus preventative measures such as distancing, reducing occupancy, sanitization etc. Deadline understands the most likely outcome initially will be a similar picture to how cinemas were operating prior to the latest lockdown, which necessitated the use of masks and reduced occupancy.

That could change on June 21, however, which is the UK’s current target date to lift the vast majority of restrictions.

There is a feeling in the cinema sector based on Johnson’s recent comments that the introduction of optional vaccine certificates is looking increasingly likely. The expectation is that businesses could be given the option to continue with preventative measures in place, or adopt a certificate enforcement scheme.

Seeing as restrictions have such an impact on the earnings cinemas can make, the alternative option could be appealing to some owners. It is likely that the smaller one or two screen venues, where a blanket rule could be adopted, would find implementation more straightforward than larger sites. However, at present there is little support for the idea.

As one cinema exec points out to Deadline – how would you put in place safely distanced experiences separately for vaccinated and non-vaccinated audience members in venues, which would need to be divided for entry points, concessions, and screens?

The June date could also shift. While the country’s vaccine program has been exemplary to date, delays to supply have already pushed back inoculation targets and it remains to be seen if this will have a knock-on effect on the reduction of lockdown measures.

“Covid certificates are a bad idea,” asserted one exec.

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