What Does a Covid-19 Outbreak at a Major Theater Look Like in Practice?

Czech National Theater, Prague (source cs.wikipedia.org/VitVit)

The situation every theater has been dreading has happened at the Czech National Theater in Prague. As of today, around 16 employees are confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus. The infection has appeared among members of the opera ensemble (chorus and orchestra), at the State opera (orchestra), and among some of the technical staff. Those who have positive tests are on sick leave and in quarantine, as is the entire chorus of the National Theater and the ensemble of the Opera Ballet. The rest of the staff are continuing work under stricter hygienic measures.

The infection seems to have originated at the sixty-two-member National Theater chorus, which has 8 confirmed cases (most clustered around a single section). All chorus members have been quarantined since August 29th. The chorus is the only National Theater ensemble which was required to be universally tested. The employees currently actively rehearsing were asked to have themselves tested as well (all theater employees have access to priory testing at the local hospital), and most complied. The Opera Ballet is currently also in quarantine, because it came into contact with the chorus, though they were not required to undergo testing and have no confirmed cases thus far. Members of the National Theater orchestra were not required to be tested, but one case within the string section is that of an actively sick individual.

Some hygienic measures have been in place since rehearsals started on August 12th: disinfecting pianos, small ensembles rehearsing in large spaces, rehearsal rooms cleaned after every use. Since the outbreak, employees are required to wear masks (except when signing,) no non-employees are allowed in the building and employees temperatures are taken upon entry. Other measures remain undisclosed.

On September 3rd, the National Theater Opera was to perform the opera Libuše (B. Smetana). Instead, it offered its ticket holders a concert of popular Czech arias. The operas Jenůfa (L. Janáček) on September 8th and Rusalka (A. Dvořák) on September 10th remain on the program, in slightly modified versions without the chorus.

The spokesman of the National Theater Tomáš Staňek, stated that the infected employees were never in direct contact with the audience, something he most likely presumes because the outbreak began before the season started.

The National Theater kicked off its 138th season on September 3rd with an open-air concert on Střelecký island, which is on the Vltava river, close to the historical building. In a public statement in which he emphasized that audiences should not be afraid to attend National Theater performances, General Director Jan Burian  calculated that the National theater has canceled 400 performances since the pandemic began. Of the 81.000 tickets which had been sold, 74.000 had been refunded. According to Burian, the theater lost 121,3 million Crowns (4 580 736 Euros), which is estimated to rise to 251,8 million Crowns (9 508 899 Euros) by the end of the year. By saving money where possible, Burian estimates the theater can bring its losses down to 180 million Crowns (6 797 465 Euros). In July, the Ministry of Culture covered 117,6 million Crowns (4 441 011 Euros) of losses.

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