THE Bournemouth Colosseum cinema, one of the smallest in the UK, has closed for the "foreseeable future" because of the growing coronavirus crisis.

Just hours after the World Health Organisation declared the virus a pandemic, owners of the tiny cinema ­– situated at Lavish Life art gallery in the Arcade, Westbourne – decided they had to protect their customers and staff.

Owner Paul Whitehouse said: "We have a large number of elderly regulars who come along and we need them to stay alive.

"We feel that the possibility of someone picking the virus up in a small cinema room is too great a risk for our customers and staff and it is not worth the risk as things are going to get worse over the next few weeks."

The cinema, which opened in September 2013, only has 19 seats, although there is a two-seater 'Royal box'.

It screens a programme of classic vintage films.

Paul said: "Cinemas in Italy are now closed on government advice so the likelihood is that this will happen here anyway.

"Our film listings will restart when things have improved and it is safe again to go out.

"Whilst closed we will be upgrading our cinema experience by installing leather sofas and upgrading the cinema sound and projection."

All of Italy's 1,200 cinemas, comprising around 3,500 screens, have been closed until at least April following the Italian government's decision to quarantine the country in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Despite its small size, the Bournemouth Colosseum has become one of Westbourne's best-loved attractions since it opened with a screening of Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning 1960 romantic comedy The Apartment.

It became the district's only cinema following the closure of the Grand in the 1970s.