Performing arts chief: There have been no coronavirus outbreaks in theaters

Russian Theater's director Margus Allikmaa.
Russian Theater's director Margus Allikmaa. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions (Eesti Etendusasutuste Liit) has announced that no coronavirus outbreak has been found linked to theaters in the country, and an individual who was infected and had been to the Endla Theater in Pärnu had not passed on the coronavirus to anyone else.

Over the weekend, the Health Board (Terviseamet) announced a recommendation that the public cancel planned family events for the foreseeable future, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, cultural institutions are open, ERR wrote.

Spokesperson of the Health Board Simmo Saar believes that these situations are quite different than other events, saying that at private parties, close contacts can be more intense and longer in duration. "It is not very difficult to ensure this infection safety in cinemas and theaters," he said.

Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) also confirmed that at the moment there is no discernible spread of coronavirus in cultural institutions, adding organizers sometimes offer more and different measures than the Health Board requires. However, Lukas says people should be dispersed in public area,s and that organizers should pay more attention to that.

The head of both the The Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions and the Russian Theater (Vene Teater), Margus Allikmaa, noted in an appeal to the Minister of Culture that establishing new restrictions on theaters must be carefully thought through, and shouldn't be carried out simply to show that something has been done.

"We know by now that sitting quietly in your seat is an activity with a low risk for infecting somebody, in theory and in practice. In the Endla Theater, where an infected person had been present, nobody got sick. There's hasn't been any outbreak related to simply sitting in a theater audeince. This should be a fundamental, on which restrictions are based."

Allikmaa added that the maximum 50-percent capacity rule earlier in place is pointless and doesn't help with fighting against the virus.

"This would represent a pure cut in budget without any positive effect. With this rule, most of theater work can't take place."

"The virus doesn't by spread sitting quietly in the auditorium. So limiting the number of visitors is not justified. It would only cause panic and fear, would be hard on the budget, and would force theaters to tell some people that they can't attend, which would decline the prestige of Estonian theaters," Margus Allikmaa said.

If the requirementstill has do be carried out in some way, 1,000 spectators would be a limit which wouldn't harm the theaters as much, Allikmaa added.

"In any case, the balconies and the hall could be classed as separate 'rooms'. The audience sitting on the balconies and the lower floors can, if necessary, be dispersed, so that there is no close contact between them."

If the government starts to restrict anything more, Allikmaa asks that regulations be based only on viral control, and that the nature of the activity is considered.

"For example, indoor sports competitions and theater performances both come with an audience, but the audience's behavior is different - in one case, spectators are often shouting their support for the team, potentially spreading the virus in the air, but this is not the case for theaters - so the restrictions should be different. "

Allikmaa added that limits shouldn't be established just to show that something is being done.

"We will have to live with the virus for a long time. Any restriction that is unjustified from the point of view of virus spread both creates fear and panic and has a devastating financial effect."


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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