Hong Kong to Reopen Cinemas as Virus Restrictions Are Eased

Movie Theater Interior - H 2012
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Movie Theater Interior - H 2012

Universal's 'Trolls World Tour' will be among the films hitting Hong Kong movie theaters on Friday as the local government begins easing social distancing restrictions.

Hong Kong will allow cinemas to reopen on Friday as the local government begins easing social distancing restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday announced that cinemas, along with fitness centers, gaming arcades and mahjong parlors, will reopen — but with a series of precautions in place, including temperature checks on patrons and distanced seating arrangements. 

Hong Kong multiplex circuit Broadway Cinemas released its screening lineup for Friday within minutes of Lam's announcement. The slate includes Universal’s Trolls World Tour, which was controversially released stateside via premium VOD, and a mix of American and Asian indie films, such as Gus Van Sant's Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot; Japan's Tora-san, Wish You Were Here; and last year's Hong Kong coming-of-age drama Better Days. 

The move to reopen was part of a general relaxing of lockdown measures. On Tuesday, the government announced that for the 10th time in the past 16 days, Hong Kong had no new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel virus. Hong Kong's current total number of COVID-19 cases stood at 1,040, with four related deaths. 

Analysts will be looking for signs of whether the relaxation of restrictions in Hong Kong is a bellwether for a broader reopening in the vastly larger mainland China market, where the coronavirus has been similarly contained over recent weeks. Hong Kong's total box office in 2019 was just $245 million compared to $9.2 billion in the mainland. The former colony of Hong Kong is administered independently of China under the one country, two systems model. An official at China's Film Bureau raised industry hopes last week in Beijing by suggesting that theaters could resume business there in June. 

Under the new guidelines, bars in Hong Kong will also be allowed to reopen but can only operate at half capacity, can host no music shows and must close dance floors, while seating is limited to four people at each table. However, nightclubs, saunas, party rooms and karaoke lounges will remain shut. 

The easing of virus restrictions follows similarly cautious re-openings announced in Norway and the Czech Republic. Cinema operators worldwide have been hit hard by the pandemic. Total box office earnings in the Asia-Pacific region plunged an astonishing 88 percent in the first quarter of 2020.