ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Maintaining Cinemas During the Pandemic

Golden Screen Cinema closurese due to Coronavirus Pandemic lock down; image by mokjc

By Anton Adianto

Art may save your soul, but in certain situations, it may kill you! Of course, we are talking about this in terms of a particular type of art—the art of cinema. And we are referring to watching movies in the cinema in light of the increase in COVID-19 outbreak since last year. And as we are writing this, we are still seeing the recurring wave of cases crashing onto our shores. Hence, the bright lights of the cinemas seem to be dwindling, exacerbated by the pandemic, even though the operation and maintenance of the cinemas are still running as usual and are a challenge for cinema owners and operators.

According to Variety, Singapore is one of the highest cinemagoing populations in the world. For a small island of 5.7 million people, this country has 300 theatres. Although the local film industry in Singapore is not as big as neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, Singaporeans are hardcore moviegoers.

The most frequently asked question regarding watching at the cinema is: Is it safe when we go back there? Not only can the problem of seating arrangements and physical contact due to the patrons’ circulation in the building be overcome more easily, but how about the cinema’s maintenance and space reconditioning that have been unused for months? How is the air-conditioning mechanism in this new regulation regarding to COVID-19 spread?

So how could cinema owners and operators keep their properties safe during this health crisis, while attracting audiences back to watching their favourite movies on the big screen again?

Capacity, Distancing & Opening Hours

In Singapore, cinemas have opened with strict and limited regulations since July 2020. However, the patron capacity from 50 per cent previously set by the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been added, especially for large cinema halls, as long as it is separated by zone, starting on 1 October 2020.

The new seating arrangement is implemented in accordance with MOH regulations, as well as imposing safe management measures. The film screening schedule is also arranged in such a way that there is a time lag during which staff can disinfect chairs and surfaces according to the safety regulations.

Unlike in Singapore and Indonesia which allowed the opening of cinemas since last year, the Malaysian government opened theatres last December but closed them again when MCO 2.0 was re-enforced. The film industry regulator National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) stated that the government has only recently reopened public access to cinemas and carried out film production activities on 5 March 2021 after the government eased its Movement Control Order (MCO) to more lenient Conditional or Recovery MCO (CMCO) in many cities in Malaysia.

The permission to open the cinema is also supervised by the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE). MAFE will also continuously monitor the current situation and react accordingly in the coming months to seek approval to reopen other locations once it is safe to do so, as well as to appeal for the lifting of the single seat and gap rule. More than 160 cinemas can be found all over Malaysia.

Exterior of the historic Cathay Building on Bras Basah Road; image by quiggyt4

Indoor Air Quality

The closure of operations for several months did not necessarily mean that cinema owners and operators were on vacation. They continued to carry out maintenance and cleaning activities throughout the cinema complexes. From the MEP, cinemas kept a humidity level to avoid the appearance of fungus inside the studio. The cinemas were located in a mall, then routine checks from the building safety management team were also a reference that had to be followed.

Cinema chains such as Shaw Theatres have done this kind of housekeeping and maintenance since the government asked all cinema owners and operators to temporarily close their businesses. Minor renovations were also carried out, especially regarding to the installation of A/C filters in accordance with the new regulations. In addition, cinemas also opened ventilation and exhaust fans as a condition for air circulation to reduce the risk of spreading the pandemic outbreak in the air. The same thing was done by Golden Village, Singapore’s largest cinema chain operating 14 cineplexes. The Singapore government launched the national SG Clean campaign to raise public hygiene standards to fight COVID-19 with certification issued by the National Environment Agency. This standard and certificate must be owned by the operators of the cinemas, one of the points is to regulate the air conditioning in a closed space.

Read: Creating values and enhancing user’s experience through Smart FM and predictive maintenance

Similar to Indonesia, the reopening of cinemas in Malaysia was followed by a recommendation not to bring food and drinks inside the studio. This is also reinforced by regulations to reduce the potential for transmission and the possibility of patrons taking off their masks while eating and drinking in theatres. The ventilation duct and air conditioning systems in each studio have indeed been improved by replacing better HVAC filters.

The application of HVAC filters with a larger Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) in the cinema lobby areas or replacing old filters with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) ones in closed rooms (studios) has been determined by the government in each country. For the construction and MEP world, this is also a new lesson that has never been experienced before.

Hygiene & Maintenance

The issue of hygiene and maintenance has become a major concern in the policy of re-opening cinemas in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as in other countries. For Malaysia, the cinema operators and patrons can see details about the health protocol from the Ministry of Health, Malaysia. Meanwhile, the Singapore government has appointed MOH and the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) to implement a protocol that suits the local situation. Guidelines that are more detailed about environmental cleaning, especially in public and closed areas such as cinemas, have been socialised since the mid-year of 2020.

Read: Smart Facilities Management (Smart FM) and predictive maintenance: The adoption’s success factors and barriers

The rules regarding the application of social distancing, seating arrangements and wearing masks while in theatres have been implemented. Operators have also made physical improvements, especially in the application of air-conditioning and new ventilation in the cinema, as well as conducting careful hygiene and room cleaning protocols. But what is more important then is how the patrons must also maintain themselves and follow the applicable rules, so that your favourite movie watching activities remain fun and safe.– Construction+ Online