New normal: Madrid drive-in cinema draws crowds with safe entertainment

For many, it was a long-awaited chance to feel normal again, sitting in their cars belting out "Summer Nights" at Madrid's drive-in cinema on a rare night out after a 10-week lockdown.

New normal: Madrid drive-in cinema draws crowds with safe entertainment
Pictures by Gabriel Bouy

It's opening night at this 1950s-themed venue and as the sun sets, vehicles begin pulling into the huge car park, ushers ensuring each is carefully positioned several metres apart.

With cinemas emptied across the world because of the pandemic, drive-in screens have seen a resurgence in popularity, offering those who've been cooped up at home for months a safe way to go out.

Two days after the Spanish capital finally began to emerge from one of the most restrictive lockdowns in the world, the Madrid Race reopened its doors with a screening of the 1978 hit musical “Grease”.

“We are the safest entertainment place in Madrid. It seems like drive-in cinema was made for a time like this,” AutoCines Madrid Race co-founder Cristina Porta told AFP, saying tickets for the month sold out in one day.

For the venue, the epidemic and the resulting restrictions have opened a whole new business opportunity.

“We've already got seven concerts booked and we're going to do theatre, masses, comedy, monologues and a bit of everything,” she told AFP.   

“This summer, there's going to be a lot more than just cinema. There will be a lot of action and a lot of rock and roll.”

'Your car is like your home'

As night falls, the lights come on at the chrome metal diner, the “corn truck” is churning out buckets of popcorn and beer is flowing at the bar as staff in gloves and visors serve the growing crowd as they wait for the film to start.

“We came a few years ago and we liked it so we thought it would be a safe option,” says 22-year-old Belen Perez who has come with her flatmate after finishing teacher training school.

On a normal night, there would be space for 375 cars but with Madrid only just reopening after suffering the brunt of an epidemic which in Spain claimed over 27,000 lives, they have limited entries to 100.

For now, the diner is closed to the public and tables are well-spaced at the bar terrace with customers able to order food through an app, with waiters delivering it to their car within 10 minutes.

“At the end of the day, your car is an extension of your home,” says Porta.   

“With these measures, it's enough to ensure there's zero risk of infection.”

'Great safe entertainment'

And cinemagoers agree.   

“Everyone has their own private space, there aren't many surfaces where you could pick up infection because during the film, no-one gets out of their car and if you want to order food you can do that online,” agrees Perez.

“It's a great way of being entertained safely.”   

For many, it's the first time they've been to a drive in, watching the film through their windscreen and hearing the soundtrack through a frequency on the car radio.

“To be honest, it feels safer than most other things, even doing your daily shopping,” said 28-year-old Daniel Martin, an aeronautical engineer.   

“I'm grateful to be here, even though you're a bit enclosed. At least we're socialising a bit even though we're separated, and that's something,” he told AFP.

“Although we've seen the film more than 10 times, seeing it like this is something new. We've never been to a drive-in cinema before, so we're killing two birds with one stone!”

By AFP's Hazel Ward

For details of screenings and how to book tickets in advance visit the website HERE.




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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.