Cinemas in Hong Kong will be allowed to reopen from Friday as part of a phased relaxation of social distancing measures in the city. The move was announced on Tuesday afternoon by the city’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, after a meeting of the Executive Council.
Broadway Cinemas, one of Hong Kong’s leading multiplex operators, quickly announced a slate of films that it would be playing from May 8. It includes a mix of older titles and some new Asian and independent U.S. titles: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” “Better Days,” and “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here.” The highest profile new movie from Hollywood is Dreamworks Animation and Universal’s “Trolls World Tour.” In an emailed update, Universal said that its “Emma” will open in Hong Kong on May 14.
Theaters will be kept below full capacity. In one example of its seating map, Broadway showed pairs of seats being sold in a diamond pattern.
It is understood that bars, fitness centers and beauty parlors will also be allowed to reopen, as long as they maintain some continuing controls. Bars for instance will be allowed to operate at no more than 50% capacity. Nightclubs and karaoke parlors, the source of several of Hong Kong’s infection clusters, will remain closed. Secondary schools will be allowed to reopen from May 27, and primary schools can restart from early June.
Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region of China, was one for the first places in the world to receive coronavirus cases as they spread from the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan. But through a combination of high public awareness and escalating control measures, Hong Kong has emerged as one of the most successful places at limiting its impact. A second wave of imported infections in mid-March was quickly suppressed through testing and strict quarantine responses.
In 10 of the past 17 days there have been zero new COVID-19 infections, and all 17 cases detected have been imported with incoming travelers. In total, Hong Kong has uncovered 1,041 confirmed cases, and suffered just 4 virus-related deaths. The last death was in mid-March.
While the city has enjoyed a low dose of health problems, Hong Kong’s economy has been badly damaged. That reflects its position as a trading center and a hub between China and the rest of the world.
Figures on Monday showed that Hong Kong’s GDP was down 8.9% year-on-year in the first quarter. That is a setback deeper than during the crises sparked by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998, the SARS epidemic in 2003 or the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09.
Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan described the current situation as a “deep recession.” He noted that the city’s economy is in its fourth consecutive quarter of retreat. The city’s economic downturn started in mid-2019, before the virus pandemic, due to massive anti-government protests.
In recent days, as the virus has retreated, new protests have already begun to emerge. The anti-government movement has been incensed by mass arrests of protest leaders, and by fresh assertions of jurisdiction by mainland authorities in supposedly semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Cinemas in mainland China are currently closed, having shuttered in late January, per central government order. Some reopened briefly in March, but were quickly closed again.
While some parts of the mainland economy are now back in business, the most optimistic scenarios for the entertainment industry sees the ban on cinema operations being lifted no earlier than the end of this month, following the delayed sitting of China’s annual political gathering, the National People’s Congress, which typically sees thousands of delegates from all over the country arrive in Beijing.
China’s provincial governments may also move at different speeds, depending on the status of virus infections in the regions.
While surveys by an online ticketing agency have pointed to pent up demand for the theatrical experience, other sources suggest that mainland audiences are still wary and unlikely to return to cinemas in significant numbers before September or October.