China’s cinemas may now reopen for business if they follow coronavirus prevention protocols like capping visitor numbers, new guidelines issued by the country’s top administrative body said Friday.
The guidelines are the first official signal that Chinese authorities have softened their strict stance on exhibition sector closures. However, no dates were mentioned. As of Friday evening, no films had been programmed and no cinemas reopened.
Nevertheless, the news was met with an outpouring of enthusiasm on Chinese social media, with the hashtag “Cinemas Are Going to Reopen” viewed more than 340 million times on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo by Friday night. “Finally, there’s a glimmer of hope!” wrote one enthusiastic cinephile.
China’s cabinet, the State Council, said that “cinemas, theaters, recreation halls and other enclosed entertainment and leisure venues may hold all types of necessary meetings and exhibition activities” in its list of new policy recommendations for how to “normalize prevention and control” of the deadly disease.
China should “adopt methods like appointment systems and limiting visitor numbers to open parks, tourist attractions, sports venues, libraries, museums, art galleries and other indoor venues” like cinemas, the body said in a statement dated to Thursday but issued publicly Friday evening. It also urged the country to “fully open” other types of businesses key to daily living like supermarkets, restaurants and shopping malls.
Venues should strengthen ventilation and implement daily cleaning and disinfection, it added, while members of the public should continue to wear masks in closed, crowded places and do their best to maintain social distance.
Beijing is doing its best to reboot its economy now that its coronavirus case load is more or less under control.
Cinemas have been shut since late January, despite a brief period when around 4% of them attempted to reopen.
Although restaurants, factories and offices across the country have long been operational again, cinemas and indoor entertainment venues considered less economically essential and higher risk to citizens have been singled out for prolonged closures.
In its last list of guidelines issued in mid-April, the State Council called broadly for business of all types to pick up again yet requested a “temporary ban” on enclosed leisure venues “to avoid clustering that risks spreading the virus.”
The consequences of continued closures have been devastating. At least 2,300 cinemas went bust during the first two months of the shutdown alone, research consultancy Artisan Gateway estimates. Chinese authorities estimate ticket sales will drop by more than $4.2 billion this year — nearly half last year’s $9.2 billion annual total.
On Friday, thousands of Weibo users said they were thrilled they’d soon get to see films on the big screen after a months-long hiatus, with many particularly excited about the prospect of finally catching hotly anticipated but previously postponed titles. A frequent query was: “Does this mean we get to see ‘Mulan’ soon?”
Others were more circumspect. “Even if they open, I still wouldn’t dare go yet,” one commenter said.
The top response to a poll of 19,000 people about the re-openings conducted by the online news outlet Sina Film, selected by around 37% of respondents, was that users could “hardly hold back the desire to return to cinemas.” The second most popular option, chosen by about 28% of respondents, was that they would rather “wait until good films come out, then go support” cinemas. Only 15% of participants said that they wouldn’t go even if cinemas reopened.
However, as frequent readers of Sina Film, the group polled is likely self-selecting and not very representative of the broader public.
Many echoed the sentiment of one conflicted Weibo user who posted, “I so want to go watch movies!! But I’m also pretty nervous about it.”