Chinese cinephiles are getting an early taste of what life may look under the continued reign of coronavirus: a series of sudden shutdowns with no clear end date in hotspots to contain the disease’s spread.
China’s cinemas began to slowly reopen on Monday after nearly six months of coronavirus-imposed closures. But on Thursday, local authorities in the northeastern port city of Dalian abruptly shut down theaters again after finding a small, new cluster of cases.
On Wednesday, a 58-year-old employee at a seafood processing company factory tested positive for COVID-19. After scanning hundreds of her close contacts, officials discovered two further new cases and 12 asymptomatic carriers.
Within 24 hours by early Thursday afternoon, authorities ordered cinemas, other entertainment venues and some bus routes to shut down again, local reports said.
Films scheduled to screen on Thursday were all cancelled, and ticketing is now suspended for all Dalian cinemas. Theaters are currently in the process of refunding tickets that were already sold.
Local outposts of the Wanda cinema chain were supposed to start reopening on Friday, July 24. As of Thursday morning, they had already sold more than 9,000 tickets, which must now be refunded.
Authorities have not said when they can expect to re-open.
The closures come as scores of films are scheduling imminent release dates. Though they are mostly re-releases of popular titles, Western titles new to Chinese viewers like Oscar winner “1917,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Dolittle,” and “Bloodshot” are set to debut in the coming weeks.
Dalian, home to almost seven million residents, plans to test 190,000 of its citizens in an effort to contain the potentially growing outbreak. Museums, cultural centers, internet cafes, KTVs and indoor tourist sites have also been temporarily shut down.
China reported 22 new cases of COVID-19 nationwide on Wednesday, up from 14 new cases reported the day before. The country had an overall total of 83,729 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, with a death toll of 4,634.
The U.S., in contrast, is currently home to more than 4.1 million coronavirus cases and 146,000 deaths. AMC Theaters, America’s largest cinema chain with more than 600 locations, said Thursday that it would push back its reopening of cinemas from late July to August, as major tentpoles like Disney’s “Mulan” and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” cancelled their intended releases.