KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming today joined a growing group calling for the reopening of cinemas nationwide under the movement control order (MCO).

The Opposition lawmaker said the prolonged forced closure of cinemas could impact the long term future of several other sectors, including Malaysia’s film industry, and raising unemployment rates.

“By forcing cinemas to remain closed, the government is not only jeopardising the jobs of the cinema operators (including many in the B40 who working as cleaners and attendants in these cinemas), the government is also doing great harm to the local film industry because filmmakers would not dare to shoot films if they don’t know when their films can be shown in the cinemas,” he said in a statement.

Ong pointed out that one chain cinema operator, MBO, has ceased operations since the MCO started. He added that two other major chains, Golden Screen Cinemas and Tanjong Golden Village, have also openly disclosed that they are facing financial problems staying afloat.

“If the government is making their policies based on science, as claimed by Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, then they should allow cinemas in Malaysia to reopen, slowly and carefully, with some or all of the standard operating procedures,” he said.

Ong questioned why cinemas are not allowed to be reopened when restaurants and gyms are.

“Restaurants are now allowed to seat more than four people. Restaurants are allowed to provide enclosed rooms, often seating between five to 10 people.

“Gyms have also been allowed to re-open. Patrons sweat and perhaps also shout and grunt (often without wearing masks) while working out in the gyms.

“They also move around, which means social distancing of one metre may not take place at all times,” he said.

In contrast, he said cinema goers sit still, and generally there is no talking while the movie is playing.

He added that cinemas could require their patrons to wear the face mask for the duration they are inside and be physically distanced from each other — as has been done when theatre halls were allowed to open briefly last year during the conditional movement control order and the recovery movement control order.

However, Ong said it’s different all together in cinema as the patron doesn’t move around, but sits in one place.

He also pointed out that going to the cinema is not less than being in an aeroplane for long haul journeys. He added that overseas flights lasted more than two hours, which is the average screening time of most movies.

Last week, The Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE) accused the government of “unfair treatment” by forcing cinemas to remain shut despite allowing other non-essential services to reopen during the MCO

It said that the cinema industry has already lost up to 90 per cent of revenue year-on-year and more than RM500 million in total losses incurred in the year 2020 alone.

“It is a stark contrast compared with previous years where the industry has collectively contributed over RM1.08 billion in income and over RM250 million in entertainment tax duties to the country,” MAFE said in a statement.

It also said that the forced shutdowns have resulted in countless job losses, permanent closures of cinema locations, and a significant downsizing of operations for all exhibitors across the board.

MAFE insisted that cinemas are safe, pointing out that there had been no Covid-19 cluster traced to cinemas, and urged the government to reconsider its forced closure.