CINEMAS: Opening the Doors for Vaccinated Guests and Mental Health Recovery

MAFE seeks to engage the Government on new post-vaccine SOPs for the reopening of cinemas as part of relaxation for social activities

(August 5, 2021) – Following the announcement by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on 24 July 2021 on the consideration of sports, social activities, and dine-in privileges for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE) seeks to engage the Government to allow for the reopening of cinemas under the same regulation.

Given the Government’s intent to reopen selected industries to provide some relief to those fully vaccinated, the reopening of cinemas is now more important than ever for Malaysians who have spent more than a year in lockdown and whose mental health is on a decline. Cinemas seek to provide vaccinated audiences an affordable and safe venue for escapism, one that is therapeutic for both emotional and mental well-being.

Despite being one of the industries with the most stringent SOPs, which includes social distanced seating in halls and masking at all times when not eating or drinking, cinemas are often the first businesses to close and the last businesses allowed to reopen. Even though no infections were ever traced back to the cinema, theatre operators were forced to close for more than 200 days in 2020, which resulted in losses of more than RM500 million in total and 90% of revenue year-on-year.

Since the start of 2021, Malaysian cinemas have already been shuttered for over 150 days, running huge losses – a stark contrast from previous years, where the industry has collectively contributed over RM1.08 billion in income and over RM250 million in entertainment tax duties to the country.

These forced closures have paralysed the industry with more than 20,000 Malaysians in its workforce, threatening their livelihoods with job losses and extensive pay cuts, while exhibitors face permanent closures of cinemas and a significant downsizing of operations. With no financial or monetary support from the Government, cinema operators have no way of sustaining the business, as they continue to invest into daily maintenance of cinemas and the upkeep of staff.

The prolonged closures last year saw the exit of the country’s third largest exhibitor, MBO Cinemas from the industry. In totality, over 25% of cinema screens all over Malaysia have been permanently shuttered due to long term closures and MAFE expects this number to increase if cinemas are not allowed to reopen.

From the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors:
“As the Government reconsiders the reopening of selected sectors for those who have been fully vaccinated, the cinema industry seeks to be part of those relaxations and privileges. We have one of the most stringent SOPs with no mingling in halls, masks on 100% of the time, and distanced seating. With a new ruling of only allowing fully vaccinated audiences to be granted entry, we are confident that cinemas will be a safe avenue to seek respite, which is crucial for the recovery of our nation’s mental health,” said General (Rtd) Tan Sri Datuk Amar (Dr) Mohd Ghazali Dato’ Mohd Seth, Chairman of MAFE.

The argument of essential vs. non-essential must evolve with mass vaccinations of Malaysians. All industries are essential to sustain the welfare and upkeep of our society. There is no reason for the cinema industry to remain closed while sports and social activities like sports and dine-in activities are being reopened under new circumstances and allowances. MAFE strongly urges the Government to engage with the organisation to jointly work together on the safe reopening of cinemas under new post-vaccine SOPs.

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