Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 2nd of March, 2021

It is time to re-open cinemas, slowly and carefully

Most of the cinemas under the two major cinema chains – Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) and Tanjong Golden Village (TGC) – have remained closed since the beginning of the Movement Control Order (MCO) 2.0 in January. These cinema chains have suffered greatly from a financial perspective since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, a smaller cinema chain – MBO – announced that they were closing their operations for good in October 2020.[1]

The announcement on whether the MCO 2.0 will be extended beyond the 4th of March in the Klang Valley, Melaka, Penang, and Johor, will be made soon. I urge the Malaysian government to update the SOPs to allow for cinemas in Malaysia to reopen, slowly and carefully.

Many may still be concerned about going to a cinema because it involves being in an enclosed space for an extended period of time. But the same can be said about being in aeroplanes for long haul journeys but overseas flights lasting more than 2 hours are still allowed. Some health experts have shared their opinion that cinemas should be allowed to re-open, with strict SOPs being observed.

For example, an infectious disease professor at the University of California at Davis in the United States has the following advice on how to keep safe in cinemas:[2]

  1. Don’t talk to one another during a movie
  2. Six foot social distancing and block off every other seat
  3. People are facing the same direction
  4. Avoid eating and drinking in the cinema

(Wearing a mask at all times is assumed)

As far as I know, most of the suggestions above have been SOPs that have been practiced by the cinema operators during the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) and the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) last year. If the government wants to be even stricter, they can ask for the patrons not to laugh (while watching comedies) and not to scream (while watching horror films). The cinema operators also should prove to the government that their air-conditioning system sufficiently filters and cleans the air within individual cinemas.

Before you scream and shout at me for recommending a measure that you think is irresponsible from a health perspective, consider the following. Restaurants are now allowed to seat more than 4 people. Restaurants are allowed to provide enclosed rooms, often seating between 5 to 10 people. The people in these enclosed rooms often eat, drink, and talk (some may even sing!) for one or two hours. Gyms have also been allowed to re-open. Patrons sweat and perhaps also shout and grunt (often without wearing masks) while working out in the gyms. They also move around which means social distancing of 1 meter may not take place at all times. In a cinema, the patron doesn’t move around but sits in one place. They rarely talk to one another (unless they are the inconsiderate types). They are socially distanced because they sit one seat apart (Couples have to make the sacrifice of sitting apart during the movie). Hence, if restaurants are allowed to have more than 4 patrons seated at tables with no restrictions on talking (and shouting) and gyms are allowed to open with patrons not having to wear masks while working out, why aren’t cinemas allowed to re-open?

By forcing cinemas to remain closed, the government is not only jeopardizing the jobs of the cinema operators (including many in the B40 who working as cleaners and attendants in these cinemas), the government is also doing great harm to the local film industry because filmmakers would not dare to shoot films if they don’t know when their films can be shown in the cinemas.

If the government is making their policies based on science, as claimed by Senior Minister, Azmin Ali, then they should allow cinemas in Malaysia to reopen, slowly and carefully, with some or all of the SOPs suggested above.

#ReOpenCinemas

[1] https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/groove/2020/10/632594/showbiz-mbo-cinemas-shut-down-good-due-covid-19

[2] https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/movie-theaters-may-pose-less-covid-19-risk-than-we-think-says-uc-davis-health-expert/2020/06