As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases grows, citizens continue to keep their guards up, staying mostly at home and avoiding gatherings. This has taken a toll on most of the cinemas in Hong Kong as the number of cinema-goers dropped significantly. In some countries abroad, movie theatres are closed, while production and release dates for upcoming blockbusters have been pushed back.
As of March 18, the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has risen to 181, with 4 deaths. Following the large-scale outbreak in Europe and other parts of the world, the government has taken a drastic measure to curb the local spread of the pandemic, issuing the Red Outbound Travel Alert to all countries around the world except Mainland China, Macau and Taiwan yesterday. Compulsory quarantine orders would be extended to anyone who enter Hong Kong from overseas starting from March 19 midnight. Facing a second surge of the coronavirus due to imported cases, people are advised to continue keeping a social distance of 2 metres and avoid large-group gatherings in closed and poorly-ventilated places.
Cinemas, unfortunately, are one of the places that would violate both advices. Not only are seats closely put together, a cinema house can typically allow around 130 audience, with some even housing up to 300 and more people. Coupled with the fact that cinemas have no windows and its doors are closed during screening, they are highly dangerous places to be in at the time of a pandemic. In fact, the government has also advised people against going out for unnecessary errands, and specifically mentioned cinemas, among other typically crowded places like shopping malls, as places to avoid visiting.
(Centre for Health Protection’s guide on staying safe on rest days during the coronavirus outbreak.)
The Hong Kong government is not the only city which is discouraging citizens from cinema-going. In China, almost all cinemas across different provinces have shut down since the Chinese New Year and only some are re-opening as the spread slows to single-digit increases. Overseas governments have also been taking more drastic measures in shutting cinemas’ doors. The Mayor of New York has signed an Executive Order to close all cinemas, along with nightclubs, small theatre houses and concert venues, stating that “the virus can spread rapidly through the close interaction New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together. We have to break that cycle.” France has also ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, including cinemas, while other European countries like Italy and Spain are on lockdown, with people forced to stay home.
While cinema operations are not banned in Hong Kong, local cinemas are taking more stringent cleaning measures. Major cinemas in Hong Kong, which include MCL Cinemas, Emperor Cinemas, Cinema City and UA Cinemas now all require customers to wear masks and undergo temperature checks before entering their houses. Disinfections with 1:99 bleach are now carried out in houses between shows and on an hourly basis in public areas. Cinema City is even providing one free mask for each customer with a ticket, and UA is taking an extra step by having an “Alternative Row Seating Arrangement”, effectively putting more distance between each customer to lower chances of infection.
Cinemas are not the only component of the film industry that got hit in the coronavirus pandemic. Many long-anticipated movies have been forced to delay filming and push back release dates.
Some movie productions have been brought to a standstill. Paramount Pictures announced in a statement on Feb. 24 that the production of Mission: Impossible 7, originally scheduled to start with a three-week shoot in Venice, has been delayed with no know resumption date. Other films that have halted production include The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson, and an Elvis Presley biopic, which stars Tom Hanks, who was previously confirmed to have contracted coronavirus along with his wife.
A list of movies slated for screening now has to push back release dates. Originally set to hit the silver screens on March 27, Disney’s Mulan has postponed its release until further notice. Black Widow, a greatly-anticipated Marvel superhero movie, is also announced to be postponed today. Fast and Furious 9, 007: No Time To Die, A Quiet Place Part II and Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway are only some of the other movies that have delayed their release.
(Message from Niki Caro, director of Mulan on the movie’s postponement)
In fear of the second wave of community outbreak brought on by imported cases from the rest of the world, local cinemas would continue to be considered hotspots for infection for a while. In the meantime, movie-lovers best stay home, binge on old movies on streaming devices like Netflix, while we wait for the spread to slow down, cinemas to be cleared and new films to be out.