A UCD expert in ventilation has cautioned that cinema-goers should wear masks at all times, as one of the largest cinema operators, Omniplex, said movie theatres offer one of the safest indoor activities at present.
Cinemas and hotels are among the few places where people can currently eat indoors without wearing a face mask.
Since reopening on June 7, cinemas must limit occupancy to a maximum of 50 people per screen and masks are required, except when seated to allow for the consumption of food and drink.
Assistant professor at the UCD School of Architecture, Orla Hegarty, however, said the safety of cinemas and other indoor spaces was far from clear in the absence of air quality monitoring or ventilation standards, and that masks should continue to be worn in all indoor spaces to reduce the risk of Covid spread.
Ms Hegarty said schools were introducing CO2 monitors as a means of monitoring air quality and that a similar requirement could be made of other public spaces and venues.
“Without clean air standards and monitoring of air quality, we don’t know what the risks are,” she said.
Ms Hegarty also pointed out that Covid-19 infection rates have doubled in 19-24-year-olds in the past month, with many in this age group working in frontline hospitality and leisure services and not yet vaccinated.
“They are the very people who are working in hospitality, in cinemas, and in gyms and who have not been vaccinated yet and are very exposed now with reopening,” she said.
Earlier this week, the UCD academic — who is also a member of the Government’s expert group on ventilation — raised concern about plans to reopen indoor dining in pubs and restaurants from July 5 and that sectoral guidance for reopening services was not scientifically up to date.
Guidance developed in consultation with cinema operators, which was updated this month, states that ventilation must be assessed as part of a workplace risk assessment.
Director of the Omniplex group, Mark Anderson, said he stood over the safety record of cinemas, which he says offer one of the safest indoor activities at present.
“There is no evidence of Covid transmission in any cinema — not only in Europe, but anywhere in the world,” he said, adding that the issue had been looked at by national, European, and international cinema unions.
“We have guidelines agreed with the Department of Arts and Culture which have been revised, updated, and checked by the department, and every cinema has adopted those guidelines.”
Mr Anderson said cinemas had to comply with building regulations and that all Omniplex facilities had ventilation systems that provided 10 litres of “100% fresh air” per person per second into auditoriums, even when occupancy levels are currently at less than 25%.
Cinema operators in Ireland, Mr Anderson said, were facing one of the most “restrictive” regimes in Europe, among 30% of EU countries requiring 2m social distancing, where other countries required a social distance of 1m of 1.5m.
The Department of Culture and Arts said cinemas and theatres are operating under agreed protocols.