Chinese president Xi Jinping indicated that cinemas should remain shut while on a tour to Zhejiang province that otherwise signaled Beijing’s desire to get its economy back on track post-coronavirus, state media said on Wednesday.
His comments come as China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has ordered entertainment venues across the country that had just cautiously re-opened for business to shut down again, according to Chinese reports.
Cinemas have been closed since late January due to the coronavirus outbreak. Around 5% of them were slowly re-opening and hundreds more were set to follow until authorities last Friday suddenly ordered all of them shut again for the foreseeable future.
Chinese officials have still not issued a statement on the reasoning behind the abrupt about-face, but in video footage released on Wednesday, Xi implies continued closures.
“Prevention and control [of the coronavirus] cannot be paralyzed right now; continue to refrain from engaging in too many group activities,” he says while wearing a face mask during a work site visit. “If anyone wants to see a movie, just watch it online!”
Given the high level of control the Chinese state exerts over which of Xi’s carefully scripted remarks are made public, the seemingly offhand comment is likely a further indication that the country’s struggling exhibition sector will continue to suffer for quite some time.
Xi’s four-day trip to his old power base of Zhejiang, where he was the provincial party secretary for five years in the 2000s, is his first out of the capital since a trip to Wuhan, the coronavirus’s epicenter, early last month.
Since Monday, he has been inspecting industrial sites there, such as a large container port and a zone for car manufacturing. The official Xinhua news agency said the visit sent a “clear message” that Beijing is shifting its attention to economic recovery and the resumption of business, now that the worst of the disease’s outbreak is under control.
Manufacturing and other industries are of course a higher priority for China’s highly export-dependent economy than service sector pleasures such as cinemas and restaurants.
Xi’s comments continued: “Activities involving large-scale activities such as sports games, especially indoor ones, must also continue to be controlled. And when it comes to restaurants, the number of people should be limited.”
Just a week ago, local authorities across the country were lifting restrictions on entertainment venues and internet cafes to let them go back into business nearly two months after they first shuttered. But in the past few days, they have suddenly backtracked, issuing an order to once again close everything from karaoke parlors to indoor swimming pools.
Authorities in the central province of Henan shut down all entertainment venues and internet cafes on Monday after a cleaner in a library there was diagnosed with coronavirus. Similar directives to shutter businesses have been issued in regions such as Anhui and Sichuan provinces. In Shanghai, more than two dozen entertainment sites popular with tourists have been shut down again, including the city’s iconic Oriental Pearl Tower, its Ocean Aquarium and the Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park, among others.
Official figures state that few new coronavirus cases have been detected in China in recent weeks, with most of them being “imported” via people returning from abroad. But the country has come under increasing fire for its handling of its data. Beijing previously had not counted those who test positive for the virus, but show no symptoms, among its tally of confirmed cases.
Chinese officials have said that, beginning on Wednesday, they will begin including these asymptomatic patients — who can still spread the disease — in their counts. As of Monday, 1,541 such cases have cumulatively been under observation.