Seven major films were expected to have been released over the coming weekend, with the likelihood that together they would have earned more than $1 billion in just a few days. They are Peter Chan’s “Leap,” Dante Lam’s “The Rescue,” Xu Zheng’s “Lost in Russia,” Wanda’s “Detective Chinatown 3,” Stanley Tong’s Jackie Chan-starring “Vanguard,” and two animations, “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life” and “Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification.”
Within hours of each other on Thursday, the production teams for the film each put out statements on their official Weibo accounts that they had decided to pull out for public health reasons. The messages all spoke of a sense of collective duty to work together to fight the virus, apologized to cinemas, and invariably thanked the “frontline health workers.”
Given their younger target audience, the animated films were the first to announce the move. “In the 2020 lunar new year of the rat, as the whole country is fighting against the new virus, we do not wish to see our viewers take on any health risks because they came to see ‘Boonie Bears: The Wild Life,’ and especially do not wish to possibly spread the virus any further,” that film’s statement read. “For the ‘Boonie Bears,’ nothing is more important than the safety of your family and children! “
Major ticketing platforms Maoyan and Taopiaopiao have promised to refund all tickets without question, a process that may take up to a week. Cinema chains say they have been overwhelmed with calls all day of patrons asking for refunds.
“Imax supports the decision to postpone the release of the Chinese New Year film slate and believes it to be the best course of action in an unfortunate situation. We remain excited about these films, given the strong box office projections and pre-sale figures heading into this weekend. We have every expectation that these films will be released in 2020 and that audience demand for these releases will remain high. Our thoughts are with the Chinese people, for whom we wish a swift resolution to this issue and a safe and healthy Chinese New Year,” said large format screen developer Imax in a statement.
The new strain of coronavirus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan a few weeks ago, apparently from a fresh food market. Initially it was thought to have involved animal to human infections. But in recent days, it has become clear that human-to-human transmission has occurred.
That development in ominous in light of the country’s upcoming Chinese New Year holidays, a time when families are expected to travel en masse for reunions in what is known as the largest annual human migration, with more than 600 million people on the go. This will significantly increase the risk of spreading the disease from the Wuhan hotspot to the whole country and overseas.
Travel has been restricted but not entirely cut in and out of Wuhan since 10AM local time on Thursday, with authorities ordering all buses and trains to stop facilitating transport out of an industrial hub with some 11 million residents. The news of the lock-down led to a mad scramble of residents trying leave the city ahead of time, many of whom fled to other population centers throughout the country.
So far, Chinese authorities say that at least 17 have died and 571 been infected by the disease in China. However other experts have pointed to the number and diversity of infections in other countries, and suggested that this figure is a significant underestimate. The MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London says it believes there must be more than 4,000 cases within China alone.
At least one case of the virus has already appeared in all but five of country’s provinces.
The situation is developing rapidly, with two other Chinese cities announcing travel restrictions late Thursday. They are Huanggang, a city of seven million some 40 miles from Wuhan, and Ezhou, a city of a million directly opposite Huanggang on the other side of the Yangtze River.
Authorities have issued a mandatory mask policy in Wuhan, and ordered movie theaters to shut. Cinemas elsewhere in the country are currently still operating, with many advertising the disinfection measures they are taking to supposedly keep viewers and employees safe, such as wiping down seats and ticketing counters and offering free face masks.