Chinese authorities on Friday put another nail in the coffin for China’s film sector, formally announcing that cinemas in Beijing must remain shut for the time being after three new coronavirus cases were discovered in the capital.
Beijing found its first COVID-19 case in nearly two months on Thursday — a Xicheng district resident who had not left the city in the past two weeks. Two additional new cases in a different district were announced Friday at a press conference held by the municipal government.
At the presser, Beijing officials urged the city to boost its prevention efforts, saying that cinemas, KTVs and other indoor entertainment venues should temporarily remain shut, according to the Beijing News.
Chinese cinemas have been shut due to COVID-19 since late January, with thousands going bankrupt since. The country’s top administrative body, the State Council, said on May 8 that entertainment venues including cinemas could resume work, but no local directives to do so ever emerged, leaving cinemas vacant and in limbo.
Although this new Beijing directive only applies to the capital, it indicates that the official winds are not blowing in favor of re-opening cinemas at this time. This will likely make other regions wary of resuming business even if they are currently at low coronavirus risk.
“They say it’s just Beijing, but everyone knows what Beijing signifies to the whole industry,” a widely read Chinese movie blogger wrote.
On the back of the news, a cinema manager surnamed Zhang told news outlet Phoenix Film that her company was discussing bankruptcy. “We’re just in the process now of dealing with the equipment, not even taking what could otherwise be taken. It’s so disheartening,” she said.
The apparent turnabout in the official stance on reopening created an unpredictable environment making planning impossible. She had been full of optimism in the wake of the State Council’s May announcement, but as the date for resuming operations was pushed further and further found herself no longer able to keep her business afloat as rent pressures and other costs mounted.
More than 2,300 Chinese cinemas went bust in the first two months of shut down alone, analysts say.
Meanwhile, cinemas in Canada and the U.S. have already begun re-opening, despite their respective countries’ ongoing struggle with the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Chinese director Jia Zhangke took to social media platform Weibo to advocate for the film industry and call for cinema re-openings. “Some movie companies are losing RMB1 million a day. A million cinema practitioners need to survive,” he wrote. His post was only retweeted by a small handful of directors and producers, however — a potential indication that more prominent film industry players are lying low on the matter out of fear of saying something that runs counter to the party line.