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A new wave of movie theater closures and restrictions has rippled through Canada’s exhibiton sector as the country battles a steep rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Despite a busy holiday season, cinemas have shut down in Quebec, while elsewhere in Canada regulating provinces have chosen to keep movie theaters open, but with tightened restrictions on mask-wearing and food and drink consumption. The move follows Canadian provinces reimposing seating capacity limits for large venues, including those hosting movies, concerts and sporting events.
In French-speaking Quebec, Cinémas Guzzo has shuttered all its theaters from Dec. 20 at the direction of the provincial government. “As usual, we are monitoring the situation very closely and will adjust as necessary based on requests from the authorities. Our priority will remain above all else, the health of our employees and the public,” the exhibitor said in a statement.
In Toronto, the country’s largest media market, cinemagoers will continue to mask up in theaters, but will no longer be able to eat popcorn or have drinks as the Ontario government takes new measures to tackle the spread of the new, heavily mutating coronavirus variant. On Dec. 23, Ontario reported a pandemic high of 5,790 new cases of COVID-19.
Cineplex, the country’s largest exhibitor, has 19 theaters in Quebec and Newfoundland shuttered as those provinces look to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. Only Saskatchewan has no capacity restrictions impacting movie theater chains.
Cineplex has another 141 theaters operating in the rest of Canada as of Dec. 23. In Ontario, Cineplex has had to cut by 50 percent seating in its multiplexes, except for locations in regional markets like Kingston, Sault Ste Marie, Ottawa, Belleville and Sudbury where additional public health directives are in place locally.
The renewed capacity restrictions come as the holiday moviegoing season was preceded by resurgent box office for Hollywood tentpoles like No Time to Die, Dune and Sony’s Tom Holland starrer Spider-Man: No Way Home, which reached theaters in mid-December.
“We have and will continue to follow guidelines set forth by all levels of government including proof of vaccination requirements and mandatory masking. Additional measures like reserved seating, enhanced cleaning and safety signage have also been implemented to keep our guests and team safe,” Sarah Van Lange, a spokesperson for Cineplex, told THR.
Food and beverage consumption continues in movie theaters outside of Ontario, even as 50 percent capacity restrictions have been put in place, and patrons must continue to mask up, except when eating or drinking in theaters, and must show proof of vaccination to gain entry to venues.
While movie theater restrictions in Canada are changing almost daily according to local public health directives, capacity restrictions on large venues of more than 1,000 seats have played havoc with Canadian theaters and concert venues. Mirvish Productions, a major live theater producer in Toronto, has canceled the North American premiere of Tom Stoppard’s new play Leopoldstadt, whose London cast was to perform for a seven-week engagement at the Princess of Wales Theatre from Jan. 22, 2022.
“By programming (Leopoldstadt) in 2022, almost two years from the start of the pandemic, we thought we would be protected from the vagaries of COVID-19 and would be able to present the play in Toronto in a relatively safe environment,” David Mirvish, a producer with Mirvish Productions, said in a statement.
“But the new variant that’s only recently arrived and the ensuing government regulations — capacity restrictions announced this past weekend by the Ontario government and the non-essential travel advisory issued by the federal government, with looming border closings and quarantines expected — have complicated logistics,” he added.
Elsewhere, a Broadway Across Canada production of the musical Hamilton at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa has been postponed from Jan. 4 to July 12, 2022.
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