Cinema operators in Hong Kong are lobbying the city government to keep up with the new pandemic rules in mainland China and scrap COVID restrictions on local theaters before the release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” and ahead of the Christmas holiday peak.

Hong Kong authorities relaxed some of their COVID restrictions in mid-November, but kept them in place for movie theaters. Currently cinemas in the city are only allowed to operate at 85% of capacity and with a maximum of 12 spectators on the same row. Patrons must wear masks and show a health code before being allowed to enter.

Trade association, Hong Kong Theatres Association argues that mainland China is now relaxing its COVID controls, and that Hong Kong should do the same.

“Avatar 2” is set to open in Hong Kong in Dec. 14 and on Dec. 16 in the mainland. But many mainland theaters are now permitted to sell their full capacity.

“All restrictions on seating capacity at cinemas in cities including Shenzhen, Wuxi, and [Beijing suburb] Dongcheng were scrapped on Dec. 7. And movie-goers are no longer required to take PCR tests before entering cinemas,” the association said in a statement.

China this week appeared to be moving away from its zero-COVID policy and has started relax lockdown, testing and quarantine requirements, in what may be a reaction to a series of nationwide protests. 

“This pandemic has lasted for three years already. We have lost a total of 267 business days and been operating under restrictions for a total of 739 days. Our industry has suffered a huge blow,” the association continued, adding that Hong Kong box office was down by 70% in 2020 compared with pre-pandemic times. In 2021 and this year, revenues are 40% down.