China to Reopen Over 200 Cinemas in Shanghai

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The country's commercial capital is the first tier-one metropolis to resume theatrical moviegoing in a significant way, following the lead of less populous provinces that tested the water for limited cinema re-openings a week ago.

More than 200 movie theaters will resume operation in Shanghai on Saturday after two months of closure to contain the spread of coronavirus, local authorities said Thursday.

The Chinese commercial capital is the country's first tier-one metropolis to resume theatrical moviegoing in a significant way, following the lead of less populous provinces that tested the water for limited cinema re-openings a week ago. By Saturday, China is expected to have 700 to 800 movie theaters up and running.

The theaters will be rebooting under robust health guidelines. "To lower the risk of infection, cinemas should strictly implement epidemic prevention measures, and audiences are required to have their body temperature tested and present their health codes at entrance and wear masks during the show time," Yin Xin, spokeswoman for the Shanghai municipal government, told the state-backed news service Xinhua. Theaters also will be required to leave an empty seat between patrons in every direction.

National and local governments have begun rolling out various measures to boost cinemas as they get back to business. The state-back studio China Film Group has reissued 20 popular past blockbusters to cinemas, working with rights holders to allow theaters to keep 100 percent of the revenue. Included in the program are both domestic hits — such as Wolf Warrior 2 and The Wandering Earth — and imported films whose release rights are held by Chinese companies, such as Green Book (Alibaba) and Lebanese sleeper hit Capernaum (Road Pictures).

The city of Shanghai has over 380 movie theaters, and more cinemas are expected to resume operation soon "in an orderly manner," local authorities said.

Regional Shanghai government authorities also have cobbled together a discount offer. From Saturday to April 26, users of Alibaba's Tiapiaopiao ticketing platform in the Shanghai region will be offered a discount of RMB 10 ($1.40) per ticket on purchases of up to four tickets per user.

Cinemas will need all the help they can get to begin luring customers back over the days and weeks ahead. Total box office in China on Thursday was just RMB 45,000 (about $6,300), according to ticketing company Maoyan.

Still, Chinese exhibitors find themselves in an enviable position compared to operators in North America, Europe and elsewhere in the world, where virtually all movie theaters remain shuttered.

Recent data from Beijing health authorities indicates that domestic transmission of the coronavirus has been almost entirely contained. In recent days, nearly all new cases have come from travelers and residents overseas. Worried that imported cases could spawn a second wave of infection, Beijing announced Thursday a blanket ban on foreigners entering the country and halted almost all incoming flights.