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China Re-Shutters Movie Theaters Amidst Fears of Second Outbreak

After recently announcing a plan to gradually reopen cinemas, Beijing has abruptly reversed course.

Wang Xudong, the manager of Zhuolu County Digital Cinema, checks on the main screening hall in Zhuolu county in north China's Hebei province. The brightly-decorated 3-D cinema in this town outside Beijing is showing the latest Chinese and Hollywood films, to row after row of empty red seats. So few people come to watch films here that the theater manager rents out the halls to travelling sales companies or music teachersBiggest Cinema Market, Beijing, China - 12 Dec 2016

Zhuolu County Digital Cinema

Andy Wong/AP/Shutterstock

The Chinese government has put the kibosh on its plan to re-open shuttered movie theaters which had closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Via Variety.) China’s film bureau released a notice Friday morning to the some 500 movie theaters that had been given the green light to re-open, ordering all theaters to shut down again. The official explanation is still unknown, but many are speculating that Beijing is fearful of a potential second wave of coronavirus cases.

Theaters that were preparing to re-open had been given specific permission from their local governments, after proving compliance with all health and safety regulations. On Thursday, the municipal authorities in Shanghai announced it had given the go-ahead to 205 theaters to re-open on Saturday. The China Film Group, the state-backed distributor that controls all movie release dates in the country, announced a plan to re-release past blockbuster titles, such as “Wolf Warrior 2” and “The Wandering Earth,” as well as Hollywood fare like “The Avengers” franchise and “Green Book,” in order to entice audiences back into seats.

Still, ticket sales were low as fearful audiences stayed home. The Zhongying Golden Palm Cinema in Xinjiang provincial capital Urumqi became the first movie theater in China to reopen its doors on March 22, but not a single moviegoer showed up on day one. The national daily box office intake was in the low thousands of dollars.

“We can’t stay closed forever,” the theater operator said at the time. “We can only cooperate with the notices, and test the situation a bit, and see what feedback we get from the public. If there are no new films, it makes no difference if we’re open or not. At the moment, we only have these few films; we have to wait and see if there will be new movies released.”

This is not the first time the Chinese government has reversed course. In late February, local officials said they would loosen quarantine restrictions in Wuhan, the original site of the outbreak, allowing healthy people to leave the city. Hours later, it rescinded the order, saying it had been an “invalid” decision made without higher authorization.

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