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[From the Scene] Movie theater gets back to normal with vaccine pass

Moviegoers buy snacks at kiosk machines at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Saturday night. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
Moviegoers buy snacks at kiosk machines at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Saturday night. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
If it were not for all the people wearing masks, it would be fair to say that multiplex theater CGV Yongsan in central Seoul was back to normal on Saturday night -- just as it used to be before COVID-19, especially in vaccine-pass auditoriums.

Changes were evident at the snack bar, which had very few customers a week earlier. The theater smelled of popcorn, people were standing in front of the kiosks to buy food, and staff were shouting customer numbers at the pick-up counter.

These changes were possible because the South Korean government loosened its social distancing guidelines Nov. 1, in line with its “living with COVID-19” strategy.

Following the government’s decision, major multiplex operators started offering new options, including late-night screenings after 10 p.m. and “vaccine-pass” auditoriums for fully vaccinated people.

The biggest difference between a vaccine-pass auditorium and a general auditorium is that the audience can eat and drink. The theaters also do not have to leave every other seat vacant.

As people waited at Yongsan CGV to see the Denis Villeneuve film “Dune” in vaccine-pass auditorium No. 13 on Saturday around 8:30 p.m., there were two long lines. Everyone had to scan their QR codes before entering. A CGV staff member was busy checking people’s movie tickets while also asking people to get their QR codes ready beforehand to prove they were fully vaccinated.

When the film’s 8:40 p.m. start time was imminent, the staff started checking mobile screens instead of asking everyone to scan their QR codes, to speed up the process.
 
Moviegoers line up to scan QR codes proving they are fully vaccinated before entering a vaccine-pass auditorium at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Saturday night. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
Moviegoers line up to scan QR codes proving they are fully vaccinated before entering a vaccine-pass auditorium at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul on Saturday night. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
But the delay meant quite a few audience members had to enter the auditorium after the movie started. People in line held popcorn boxes bearing stickers warning them they were only allowed to eat in vaccine-pass auditoriums.

The audience couldn’t hide their excitement about being allowed to snack during movies.

“I clearly knew that we could eat in the auditorium. When I was booking on my mobile app, a pop-up screen came up letting me know that I was booking tickets for the vaccine-pass auditorium and that I could eat while watching the movie,” a 23-year-old moviegoer told The Korea Herald, giving only her surname, Park. “This is a three-hour film. I was so looking forward to eating popcorn while watching this film.”

The 210-seat auditorium was full except for about 10 seats in the front row.

When the film started, most people immediately started eating popcorn. Many took off their masks completely or pulled them down to their chins.

About an hour after the screening started, nearly everyone had finished eating and put their masks back on as instructed.

“I put my mask back on immediately (after eating my popcorn) because I really want this vaccine pass auditorium to continue to operate,” Kim Ji-wook, 29, who came to the theater with two of his friends, told The Korea Herald after the movie.

Many of those who watched the film Saturday night welcomed the change.
 
A sign at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul explains the rules for the vaccine-pass auditorium. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
A sign at CGV Yongsan in central Seoul explains the rules for the vaccine-pass auditorium. (Song Seung-hyun/The Korea Herald)
“It felt like I saw hope that we can gradually go back to normal,” Kim said.

“I watched ‘Cruella’ at this theater a few months ago. Back then there was nobody sitting next to me due to the social distancing guidelines. It was great to watch the film in a packed auditorium with popcorn,” said a university student named Jeon, who only wanted to give his surname. His friend added that this movie was more fun, maybe because of the changed rule.

But one man expressed some worries about the vaccine-pass auditorium.

“I heard that there are also breakthrough infections,” said the moviegoer, who only gave his surname, Kim. “Maybe it would be safer if the theater still made people sit apart from each other.”

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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