Ontario’s 3-step COVID-19 reopening plan threatens future of movie theatres, drive-ins

Click to play video: 'Ontario’s 3-step reopening plan threatens future of movie and drive-in theatres' Ontario’s 3-step reopening plan threatens future of movie and drive-in theatres
WATCH ABOVE: Those in show businesses are asking the Ford government to consider loosening restrictions when it comes to drive-in and movie theatres. There is concern that about 20 per cent of the province's theatres will be forced to close for good if they can't take advantage of a summer with many blockbusters in the pipeline. And drive-in theatres share those concerns. Morganne Campbell reports – Jun 1, 2021

Nearly 20 per cent of Ontario’s movie theatres may be forced to close, and it’s being blamed on the Ford government’s three-stage COVID-19 reopening plan.

“I would venture to say we’re one of the hardest-hit industries because we have had to shut obviously in most regions, and our revenue is down 96 per cent so we don’t have the option of curbside pickup as you can imagine,” explained Nuria Bronfman, the executive director of the Movie Theatre Association of Canada.

“We don’t have the ability to produce any kind of revenue when we’re shut and yet we continue to have to pay certain fixed costs.”

Ontario theatres will be permitted to reopen in Step 3 of the provincial reopening plan, which could be put in place by the end of July.

Read more: Ontario step closer to reopening plan as COVID-19 stay-at-home order set to end

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With a summer of blockbusters in the pipe, including Top Gun and the ninth installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise, theatre owners are concerned they’ll miss out if the province doesn’t reconsider guidelines in its reopening plan.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing because we’re the first industry to close, the last to open in this province and we have had zero cases of virus transmission in our theatres not only in Canada but around the world,” added Bronfman who also stated the industry has conducted several peer-reviewed third-party studies.

Quebec theatres have been open since February, and B.C. and Alberta have recently announced theatres can reopen on June 15, so long as case counts continue to decline and the number of people vaccinate continues to climb.

“It’s a mystery to us, and we have asked that they make their decisions based on data, data-driven decisions. That’s all we’re asking for and we’ve provided the data for them,” said Bronfman.

READ MORE: Ontario drive-ins, movie theatres call for province to ease restrictions

The screens at drive-in theatres remained blackened, even though they were allowed to reopen at the same time as other outdoor activities including golf, splash-pads, and parks.

“I’m not convinced that there’s any science behind why the drive-ins aren’t open. I just think it’s a complete guess,” explained Brian Allen, the owner of Premier Theatres.

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He owns and operates five of the provinces drive-ins, and said he’s lost nearly $1 million in revenue across all the properties so far this year. The soonest he could reopen would be in Stage 1, which depending on vaccination rates and case counts, could begin in the middle of June.

Allen said he’s reduced capacity at his drive-ins to just 45 per cent, set up online ticketing and concession ordering, so that no one has to step out of their cars. He’s even gone as far as to close playgrounds and supervise areas like washrooms where people could mingle in an effort to reduce potential virus transmission.

READ MORE: Ottawa movie theatres go dark again as some question logic of red-zone closure

“We’re really taking it very seriously, and yet we’re not, sort of, getting anywhere. The worst part of it is the government recognized the safety of a drive-in, and then they decided that it is different now. How can that be?” Allen said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any point A to point B thought process going on here.”

In a statement to Global News, Ontario government officials said the province must “remain conscious of the continued threat the virus poses,” adding that the reopening plan must be “slow and cautious.”

“The government will continue to work with stakeholders on their reopening plans, including targeted guidance and measures for specific sectors to ensure that they have full awareness of when they can begin to safely re-open and how. Drive-in cinemas are permitted to open in step one,” wrote Dakota Brasier, a spokesperson for the minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries.

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She added officials are working to develop specific guidelines that will apply in each step of reopening and will provide additional information in the coming days and weeks.

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