Hong Kong’s ongoing anti-COVID restrictions are forecast to cost the city’s cinemas HK$1.5 billion ($192 million) in lost box office receipts and cause the unemployment of thousands of people in the cinema business.
The Hong Kong Theatres Association, which represents the city’s cinema operators, says that the damage to the industry in 2022 will be worse than in the past two years.
Cinemas have been ordered to remain closes from Jan. 7 until at least April 20, 2022 (a minimum of 104 days) reflecting the course of the virus’ fifth wave in the city, which has turned out to be by far the most deadly.
Hong Kong cinema are certain to lose both the Lunar New Year and the Easter holiday seasons, two of the peak viewing periods. And some of the festive comedies shot especially for Lunar New Year, such as “Chilli Laugh Story,” starring Sandra Ng and Edan Lui, a member of Hong Kong boy band Mirror, and “Table for Six” starring Dayo Wong, remain in storage awaiting a new release date.
Two cinemas, Broadway Circuit’s branch in shopping mall Hollywood Plaza in Diamond Hill, Kowloon, and Cinema City Victoria in Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts, have closed for business this year. Last year the UA Circuit filed for voluntary liquidation.
“Cinemas have been ordered to close four times since the pandemic began, with operations suspended for a total of nine months already. After each round of suspension, cinemas have to re-arrange the release schedule, something that may take three to six months. There’s no way for businesses to resume immediately when cinemas reopen,” a spokesperson of HKTA told Variety.
Cinema activity slumped by 70% in terms of box office receipts in 2020 as gross revenues fell to HK$536 million ($68.6 million) compared with 2019 revenues of HK$1.92 billion ($245 million). Food and beverage sales were also banned.
Business rebounded in 2021 as Hong Kong managed to avoid the worst of the disease’s delta variant. Gross revenues reached HK$1.21 billion ($155 million) in 2021. But the HKTA is forecasting a return to the worst.
“Business in 2022 is likely to be a lot worse than that in 2020. The association estimates that we will see a HK$1.5 billion drop in the total box office receipts of the year,” an HKTA spokesperson told Variety. “The association does not rule out the possibility of more cinema closures. We hope that the vaccination pass system can be implemented so that cinemas can resume business soon.”
The omicron variant has hit Hong Kong hard, especially a contingent of elderly people who have stubbornly stayed unvaccinated. That has suddenly made the city’s COVID death rate among the world’s highest. The Beijing-determined zero-Covid policy requires the isolation of all those who are infected, regardless of the severity of symptoms and has left public hospitals struggling. Some patients have been left sleeping outside of hospitals in the cold as medical facilities reached capacity. Local news media last week showed photos of dead bodies being stored in hospital wards alongside intensive care patients.
Restaurants, cinemas, museums and many public facilities must remain closed until April 20. But it is uncertain if the restrictions will be lifted by then, as is not clear either that the infection peak has passed or how tightly the city’s government will be required to keep a lid of the situation. Local media has reported that Beijing is disappointed by the city government’s handling of the omicron outbreak.