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Toughened COVID measures wreak havoc on culture sector

A sign at a cinema says the vaccine pass is required for entry, on Dec. 5. (Yonhap)
A sign at a cinema says the vaccine pass is required for entry, on Dec. 5. (Yonhap)
With stricter COVID-19 social distancing measures kicking in on Saturday, 45 days after the country had adopted a plan for a gradual return to normalcy, theaters and the arts sector are bracing for a difficult year-end -- again.

From Saturday through Jan. 2, movie theaters, performing arts theaters and internet cafes nationwide will have to close by 10 p.m., while restaurants, bars and cafes are to close at 9 p.m.

The film industry, which had been anticipating a recovery starting in November, is suffering a blow from the latest measures. Multiplex cinemas are refunding tickets for screenings booked after 10 p.m.

The latest “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which attracted over 630,000 moviegoers on its opening day Wednesday, setting the highest record since the start of the pandemic early last year, has a running time of 148 minutes. This means the blockbuster’s last screening must begin by 7:30 p.m. at the latest.

Live music performances will also be hit hard. Top singers had begun holding long-awaited live performances as COVID-19 restrictions eased in November. Several large-scale performances, including K-pop concerts, were expected to be held Saturday. In Seoul, Na Hoon-a, Epic High, Noel, Xia Junsu, NCT 127 and Forestella are set to perform, but the 10 p.m. rule will apply to their concerts and seating will have to be adjusted to comply with the stricter social distancing measures.

Industry personnel have predicted that the already approved performances will proceed as scheduled. The Culture Ministry is expected to announce detailed updates on concert policies soon.

All musicals, plays and other stage performances must end by 10 p.m. As most last performances start at 7 p.m. with a running time of less than 180 minutes, weekend performances are expected to sustain less damage.

On weekdays, however, performances typically start at 7:30 p.m. and production companies are discussing ways to make sure the performances end by 10 p.m. Possible measures include shortening the intermission or starting earlier.

“Angels in America,” being performed at the National Theater Company of Korea with a running time of 225 minutes, has changed its starting time from 7 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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