Authorities on Thursday ordered Beijing cinemas to cut their max capacity to just 50% over the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday to combat the spread of COVID-19, Chinese reports said, slashing prospective returns in what is typically, far and away, their most profitable week of the year.
Cinemas in China’s capital received urgent word from the Beijing Film Bureau late Thursday evening local time that the capacity changes must be imposed during the public holiday running from Feb. 11 to Feb. 17, according to the Beijing Commercial Daily News and the Financial Associated Press, the local investment-oriented news outlet. No official written notice has yet been publicly released or leaked.
Hebei province, which abuts Beijing, has become a COVID-19 hotspot. The region adopted new strict quarantine measures early last month after new cases began to emerge, with more than 300 cases confirmed in the past month. More than 22 million people have been ordered to stay at home there, double the number who were impacted last year during lockdowns on Wuhan — the city where the virus was first discovered.
Seven major blockbusters are currently scheduled to debut on Feb. 12, the first day of the Lunar New Year and the beginning of the year’s most competitive release window. Two more minor titles are set to launch on Valentine’s Day.
The collective total pre-sales for the tentpoles had already exceeded $48.2 million (RMB312 million) as of midnight local time Thursday, with Chen Sicheng’s long-awaited “Detective Chinatown 3” the frontrunner, accounting for $35.2 million (RMB228 million) of that sum. Other top titles include the comedy “Hi, Mom,” which has sold $6.55 million (RMB42.4 million) in pre-sales so far, and Lu Yang’s “A Writer’s Odyssey” (formerly titled “Assassin in Red”), which has sold $3.1 million (RMB20.1 million).
Given the high number of pre-sales, concern is mounting that Beijing cinemas may have to refund or change some of the tickets they’ve already sold. Dampened ticket sales would be a serious blow for struggling cinemas, which endured six months of closures last year and also missed out on 2020’s Chinese New Year sales bonanza, having been abruptly forced to shutter just ahead of the holiday, when the virus first emerged.
“Detective Chinatown 3” was among the major titles that should have debuted last Chinese New Year, but had its release date continuously pushed back.
China has implemented mass testing, lockdowns and travel bans ahead of the Lunar New Year, which in normal years sparks the world’s largest annual human migration as migrant workers from the countryside living in urban centers use the extended holiday to make rare visits home. It reported 17 new local COVID-19 cases nationwide on Thursday.