EastEnders is facing a staff crisis as actors consider quitting over loss of pay, soap insiders say.
Members of the cast have been told they will have to take “extended breaks” as a knock-on effect of Covid-19, it is claimed.
They will not be paid during this time, sparking fears of a mass exodus.
It is said the older, more established stars are particularly aggrieved as they feel their loyalty has been betrayed.
An insider said: “Cast were called by producers over the past few weeks and told that, going forward, they would be operating a period of extended breaks for some.
“It could see up to a third of the cast off at any one time on a loose rotation system.
“Actors will not be paid when they are off and they’re not happy.
"Some are considering quitting.”
It is claimed the move is to comply with new rules brought in to tackle coronavirus.
The source added: “Social distancing means that fewer people can be on set at one time and they have to save money during difficult financial times.”
At the height of the pandemic, the BBC soap took a three-month break.
Filming resumed in June but episode lengths have been shortened from 30 minutes to 20 as social distancing has made filming more complicated.
Producers have used body doubles, CGI and even clear plastic screens between stars to film passionate kisses.
Last week it was revealed Jake Wood, 48, will be leaving the soap after 15 years. His character Max Branning will be involved in an explosive storyline – but is not being killed off.
And longest-serving cast member Adam Woodyatt, 52, will take a break from being Ian Beale in a long-planned storyline later this year.
Soap stars sometimes take breaks to do panto, theatre and reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing.
Maisie Smith, 19, who plays Tiffany Butcher, is doing Strictly this year but will film the soap when she isn’t rehearsing for the dance show.
Maisie, who won the Children In Need version of Strictly last year, has recently been pictured showing off her toned physique.
EastEnders returned to our screens earlier this month, with 3.3million tuning in – compared to 5.3million for ITV rivals Corrie and 4.5million for Emmerdale.
Adam is among its biggest earners – on £250,000 a year.
Fellow big-hitters Danny Dyer and Steve McFadden are on the same while Letitia Dean and Diane Parish get £150,000.
Yesterday a show spokesman said: “It is not unusual in soaps for cast to have breaks for storyline reasons or other projects.
“However, these are always planned months in advance and no discussions have taken place about operating a period of extended breaks, nor are we introducing a rotation system.”