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Swine flu halts releases in Argentina

Admissions slumped 34% due to outbreak

Film distributors and exhibitors in Argentina have suspended the premieres of “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and other big releases set for Thursday as an outbreak of AH1N1 swine flu hits attendance during winter break, the year’s biggest season.

Admissions slumped 34% from Thursday to Sunday compared with the previous week despite the premieres of “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and Sandra Bullock starrer “The Proposal,” according to box office tracker Ultracine.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Up” saw admissions tumble by 76% and 89%, respectively, over the same period.

Distribs and exhibs have agreed to keep already-released films open and premiere smaller pics like Mickey Rourke starrer “Killshot.”

But big draws will wait. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” will come out July 23 instead of July 16.

But dates are still not set for others like Argentine adventure comedy “100% lucha, el amo de los clones” (100% Wrestle: The Love of the Clones) and local romantic comedy “Papa por un dia” (Dad for a Day).

Argentina has surpassed Canada for third place in deaths from the flu, with more than 60 from about 2,500 confirmed cases, according to the Health Ministry. That’s up from seven deaths and 1,000 cases on June 19.

Hospitals are struggling to keep up with demand as doctors call in sick and ventilator machines run short.

To try to contain the virus, health authorities have shut schools and universities until Aug. 3 and asked kids to stay at home. Shopping malls are barring entry to young people, sapping attendance at multiplexes.

“It is a disaster,” said Alejandro De Grazia, head of Argentine distributor Pachamama Cine, which saw local drama “Felicitas” suffer last weekend and has postponed the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo.”

“It is not only a problem of the flu but the paranoia that this is generating. People are not going to the cinema,” he said.

Theater owners have shut down the legit circuit until July 16 after admissions shrank 80%, slamming productions like Tracey Letts’ “August: Osage County” and Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” musical.

“Even though the health controls allow us to keep theaters open, our activity needs people,” Carlos Rottemberg, head of the Argentine Assn. of Theater Executives, said at a press conference late Monday.

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