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China Box Office Wiped Out as Government Expands Virus Response Measures

Measures to limit travel and the closure of most cinemas almost completely eliminated box office takings in China on what should have been the country’s busiest movie-going weekend of the year. The pain is set to continue.

The Chinese government extended the current public holidays by an additional three days as a means to slow the nationwide spread of the deadly coronavirus. In a directive from the central government’s State Council, it was announced on Monday that the Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) holidays, which had been scheduled to end on Thursday Jan 30, will now continue until the end of Sunday, Feb. 2. Schools and stockmarkets will also remain closed until Feb. 2.

The annual holidays are synonymous with city dwellers returning to their home towns in rural areas, and account for some 600 million journey within the space of a week. Family outings to the cinema have also become a modern feature of Chinese New Year holidays. But the cancellation of the release of all seven tentpole movies has meant theatrical business has been wiped out.

Aggregate revenues for the top ten titles still available on Saturday, Jan 25, were just $1.12 million, according to figures from local data provider Ent Group. On Sunday the trickle of business halved again, to a total of just $510,000.

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Last year, the first day of Chinese New Year saw $200 million earned by the top eight films by mid evening. The total box office intake for the Feb. 4-10, 2019 lunar new year period reached RMB5.83 billion ($860 million), according to data from online ticketing platform Maoyan.

Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, and a dozen other cities have been isolated in an attempt to halt the spread of the infection, which has claimed 80 lives.

China’s National Health Commission said on Monday that 2,744 people are known to have been infected and 80 killed. There were 688 new cases confirmed on Saturday, and 769 new cases on Sunday.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang is to head a high-level task force charged with responding to the outbreak. He visited Wuhan on Monday.

The mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, and Wuhan Communist Party chief Ma Guoqiang have offered to resign, due to the unpopularity of the city’s lockdown measures.

But the lockdown moves may have been started too late. Some news reports say that 5 million people left Wuhan before the quarantine measures took effect on Thursday morning.

On Sunday, China also announced an indefinite ban on wildlife trading. The disease is believed to have crossed over from animals, most likely bats, to humans. It now appears to be capable of human-to-human transmission, and that, like influenza, it can be infectious and transmitted before a sufferer shows any symptoms.

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