China closed thousands of cinemas on Friday in response to the outbreak of coronavirus, which started in the city of Wuhan and has killed 26 people as of yesterday.
The closures came a day after the distributors and producers of seven major blockbusters that had expected to launch from January 25th cancelled their films’ releases. Cinema chains closing their theaters include Wanda, Dadi, Lumiere Pavilions, Emperor, Bona and CGV. But, for the moment, the closures are not nationwide or complete. China is host to around 70,000 screens in 11,000 complexes as of the end of 2019.
Chinese New Year is the commercial high point of the cinema industry year in mainland China, with well over $1 billion of box office revenue normally anticipated to come in a week of celebration and family gatherings. It is also the peak time of year for internal travel, when about half of China’s 1.4 billion population return to their hometowns to be reunited with family.
To prevent the spread of the disease – which may have originated from bats, but now appears to involve human-to-human transmission – Chinese authorities have put 13 cities in Hubei province into lockdown. The quarantine measures affect some 33 million people, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the country has grown to over 800.
China has also moved to shut down other venues and cultural activities, such as typically crowded temple fairs. As of Friday, this included Shanghai Disneyland, the Forbidden City, Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, the National Museum of China, and portions of the Great Wall and the Ming tombs, both popular tourist sites. The country’s civil aviation authorities and state rail operator have both said they will offer full refunds for all trip cancellations nationwide, in hopes of curbing the spread of the virus during the earth-shiftingly massive holiday travel period.
These massive closures may be happening at a sensitive time, but hopefully they prove effective in keeping the coronavirus in check. The films affected should be shown at another time, or online, anyways. We at CGMagazine hope that the situation in China is brought under control, and that casualties from the virus are limited.