Reopening of cinemas deferred: IATF, Metro mayors rush implementing guidelines

    An IMAX moviehouse (PHOTO FROM SM CINEMA)

    THE government has deferred the reopening of movie theaters, video arcades and similar businesses in Metro Manila to March 1 pending the approval of implementing guidelines to be issued by local government units (LGUs).

    The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on Friday issued a resolution allowing the reopening of cinemas, video and interactive-game arcades, libraries, museums, cultural centers, driving schools and the limited operation of tourist attractions such as parks, theme parks, and historical landmarks by February 15 but subject to guidelines and implementing rules of LGUs and appropriate regulatory agencies.

    The Metro Manila Council (MMC) has expressed concern over the decision and said the reopening of cinemas and video arcades could lead to a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the MMC and the technical working group of the IATF, including the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry, are now working on the implementing guidelines.

    Benhur Abalos, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and MMC spokesman, said that “in crafting the guidelines, factors to be considered are the observance of physical distancing, seating capacity of the cinemas, use of air-conditioned units, bringing in of food, temperature inside the cinema, contact tracing, and a lot more.”

    “We are one with the economic team in the reopening of business activities but we cannot do it hastily. It should be gradual. We need to help each other here… We cannot allow the government’s gains in controlling the spread of the virus to be put to waste. We must balance the economy and health for everyone’s safety,” Abalos said.

    The MMC, which is MMDA’s governing and policy-making body, is composed of the 17 mayors of Metro Manila.

    Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez, who is the MMC chairman, said the IATF did not consult Metro mayors prior to their decision to allow the limited resumption of operations of theaters and cinemas.

    Roque said LGUs in other areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) may proceed with the reopening of their leisure establishments ahead of March as long as they have already crafted the appropriate guidelines.

    Apart from Metro Manila also under GCQ are the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the provinces of Batangas, Davao del Norte, and Lanao del Sur, and the cities of Tacloban, Davao and Iligan.

    Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said the city government will first consult with medical authorities and mall owners before reopening entertainment establishments in the city.

    Moreno also said the city government will provide free RT-PCR swab tests for cinema workers in the city. Included in the free testing are utility personnel such as janitors, security guards, tellers, ushers, ticket sellers and snack bar attendants.

    Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it has asked the Department of Labor and Employment to issue ventilation guidelines to help reduce the risks of virus transmission in cinemas.

    “We will have supplementary guidelines for us to be able to better explain what the people should do in going to such areas,” said Vergeire. – With Noel Talacay, Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval