Aaudiences are expected to flock to sold-out screenings when No Time to Die opens on Thursday, especially after rave reviews, and for many it will be the first visit to the cinema since the pandemic took hold.
For others, even the prospect of Daniel Craig’s final round as 007 may not outweigh concerns about sitting in an enclosed space for around three hours with hundreds of strangers. So, with the coronavirus pandemic not yet over in the UK, is it safe to go to the movies?
The ultimate risk factor is the prevalence of Covid infection, which, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, is around one in 90 people in the UK, and higher among young people. “If you have 300 people in the cinema, the average chance is that you have three to four people infected in that cinema,” said Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds. “Are these things safe?” The honest answer is, you can’t say it’s completely risk-free.
Assuming a person infected with Covid is seated in the auditorium, there are, roughly two ways to spread the virus: through close-range interactions such as sneezing at someone or talking, and through movement at long distances from tiny virus-carrying aerosols that can accumulate quickly in poorly ventilated spaces.
For short-range transmission, the length of the film – an epic two hours and 43 minutes in the case of the new Bond, plus commercials – and a lack of social distancing will increase the risk. “If you are right next to someone, the risk is clearly increased, both with immediate contact and with droplet transmission,” said Professor Tim Sharpe, head of architecture at the University of Strathclyde. “A lot will depend on the seating arrangement. It will certainly be a problem. “
He said it was “likely that I’ll go see the Bond movie myself… but I’ll try to find out when it isn’t fully sunk, probably towards the end of the race.”
Wearing a mask can lessen transmission at close range and Sharpe urges people to take this action where possible. “I would like those who don’t have glasses to wear a face cover,” he said. “We always have to make it a pleasant experience for people, but we know that face coverings make a difference. “
When transmitting over long distances, moviegoers can take comfort in the relatively good ventilation typically seen in large venues such as cinemas. Most modern cinemas are mechanically ventilated, and the air in auditoriums will be replaced at least by the rate at which people breathe it – around 10 liters per person per minute.
Theaters also tend to have high ceilings and open floor plans, reducing the chances of stagnant air pockets where virus-carrying aerosols can collect.
“Most of the cinemas I know are mechanically ventilated [and] if they have been reasonably well maintained and have not been built in the distant past, ventilation will be good, which is encouraging, ”said Shaun Fitzgerald, research director at the Center for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge .
Griffin said he hoped theaters would increase their ventilation systems to further reduce the risk. “We did it at [the] university and you can actually feel a breeze through our lecture halls, ”he said.
Besides airborne infections, there are also more direct routes. Passing popcorn to people outside your household should probably be avoided. “Eating popcorn is not a risk factor. If you pass it around, there is a risk of transmission from the bucket, ”Fitzgerald said.
Griffin raised the grim possibility that “someone could leave glanders on the arm of a chair,” which hopefully public health messages around basic hygiene measures such as washing clothes. hands will make a scenario unlikely.
Finally, if there was a lull in blockbuster action at any point, it could be an opportunity to slip away to visit the restroom, suggested Sharpe. “One of the classic things at the end of the movie is that everyone crowds in the bathroom,” he said. “It’s a slight fatality after a three hour movie and something that you have to at least be aware of. “
So overall? Fitzgerald said, “As the company opens up clearly, there will be people involved. You have to look at the risks in the cycle.