The South Korean government is expected to reintroduce significantly stricter control measures in response to a rising wave of COVID-19 cases. Film releases are expected to be affected.
The government eased its restrictions at the beginning of November as part of a living with COVID policy. But, since then, case numbers have begun to rise. And the Omicron variant has been detected.
On Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed a record high 7,850 new COVID-19 infections. Of these 7,828 were local cases. There were 70 new deaths, increasing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 4,456. Among the new infections were nine cases of the omicron variant, raising the total to date to 128.
The Yonhap news agency reported Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum as Wednesday hinting at implementation of “a much more powerful social distancing scheme.”
Details of the new measures are expected to be announced Friday and enforced for at least the next two weeks. That potentially deals a fresh blow to cinemagoing at the Christmas and New Year peak season.
Distributor, Showbox on Wednesday told Variety that it is now postponing the January release of its aptly named “Emergency Declaration” due to worsening COVID conditions. The Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun action film premiered in July at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cinema attendance had swelled in November as curfew and social distancing measures were eased back. Ticket sales jumped to 6.51 million, delivering gross revenues of $55.5 million, according to data from Kobis, the tracking service operated by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC).
KOFIC had introduced a discount scheme as a stimulus measure and cinema operators CGV and Lotte had begun creating ‘vaccine-pass theaters’ within their multiplexes. Those theaters were not required to operate at reduced capacity and could stay open beyond the previous 10pm curfew.
But over the most recent weekend, as rising numbers of virus cases were reported, nationwide aggregate box office revenues slumped to just $3.44 million.
Wednesday also saw the release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had enjoyed record levels of pre-sales. Its box office career may be dented if the new health measures herald restricted cinema capacities and operating hours.
The virus surge has been especially serious in capital city Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Of the country’s new cases on Wednesday, Seoul reported 3,166 and Gyeonggi 2,296. The capital area is also the most significant for cinema attendance.