Spain has joined France, Italy and Poland among European countries to shut down all national cinemas, and most public places, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez on Saturday suspended all retail commercial activity in country for 15 days, with exceptions made only for those considered basic necessities, such as grocery stories and pharmacies. The announcement came just hours after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe made a similar move, closing all “non-essential” public places, including cinemas, bars, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. The French measures take effect as of midnight local time on Saturday, March 14.
The move is a further ramping of quarantine measures following a move Friday in France to ban gatherings of more than 100 people. In response to those measures, the French cinemas association, the FNCF, said its members would strive to keep theaters open if possible. The new ban makes that impossible. France had 4,499 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Saturday, up from 3,661 on Friday, and 91 deaths.
The European box office is set to take a major hit this weekend as cinemas across the continent shut their doors or greatly curtail their operations in response to concerns over the coronavirus.
In Germany, Berlin on Saturday night announced a ban on all public gatherings of more than 50 people, shutting down all the cinemas, as well as bars, theaters and clubs in the German capital. The move follows a similar shut-down in several mid-sized cities across the country, including Bonn, Stuttgart, Bielefeld and Kassel, which earlier this week ordered cinemas to shutter out of health concerns. More are expected to follow.
Several smaller European territories, including Denmark, Norway, Greece and the Czech Republic, have followed Italy and Poland in closing all cinemas for at least two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As have Israel and Lebanon.
“This is crazy and unprecedented, the impact is obviously going to be immense,” said one box office analyst, who asked to speak off the record due to the sensitivity of the situation.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis on the global film industry has already been substantial. China, the world’s second-largest territory outside North America, has been shut down since early January, resulting in billions in lost revenues.
“A big question will be how long this lasts and if, afterwards, the pent-up demand for movies can make up for lost revenue now,” the analyst noted.
What’s clear is that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. At a press briefing on Friday, the director general of the World Health Association, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Europe is now the world center for the coronavirus outbreak, with more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.
Sweden, Finland and Belgium are expected to soon follow their European neighbors and close cinemas. Smaller territories, including Romania and Ireland, have already advised theaters to limit crowds in individual screenings to 100 people, akin to the French restrictions.
The U.K. remains the only major European territory that, so far, has not moved to curb cinemagoing. But that could change soon. English top-flight professional soccer league, the Premier League, on Friday suspended all matches until the weekend of April 3-5, out of concern for fans in the stadiums, as well as for players.
Even where cinemas stay open, the growing concern over coronavirus infection is certain to limit attendance. Going into this weekend, the studios, exhibitors and distributors across Europe should brace themselves. It’s going to be a rough ride.