Ontario to Shutter Cinemas Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Toronto March 24 2020
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The Canadian province announced the temporary closures as it sets a new record for COVID-19 cases.

Ontario is temporarily closing cinema screens in major markets amid a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario chief medical officer of health, told a press conference that cinemas, gyms and other venues with large indoor gatherings will be ordered to temporarily shut down for 28 days, or two COVID-19 incubation periods.

Cineplex, Canada's largest exhibition chain, said it will close 22 of its 68 theaters in Ontario at midnight tonight, with the shutdowns coming at venues in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region to comply with the tightened restrictions in those urban hot spots.

Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob in a statement criticized the government-imposed closures: "We are very disappointed with the government’s decision to close our theatres... We feel that these forced closures, given our proven track record, are excessive and do not take into account for our teams’ efforts, of which we are very proud. Our top priority remains the health and safety of our employees and guests and we take pride in ensuring that we always deliver an environment that is above-all safe, comfortable and welcoming."

Canadian exhibitors shut down their theaters in mid-March as the novel coronavirus pandemic took hold, and in July and August began to reopen as government-imposed lockdowns eased and Hollywood tentpoles once again hit the local multiplex.

"Our theaters have been open in Ontario since July 3 and in those 98 days of welcoming back movie-lovers, we have had zero cases of COVID-19 traced back to our operations. We have proudly brought titles like Tenet, The New Mutants and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, back to the big screen, much to the delight of Ontarians across the province," Jacob added.

Ontario, which earlier had limited attendance at theaters to 50 people per screening, said its daily COVID-19 case count had reached a new high of 939 infections, leading to tighter restrictions on indoor gatherings.

The announcement of cinema closures in Toronto, Ottawa and the Peel region, follows provincial health advisors recommending that Ontario tighten restrictions for COVID-19 hot spots, which includes Toronto, where the number of virus cases is surging.

As it reverses course and tightens public health protocols, Ontario is following the lead of neighboring Quebec after that province ordered movie theaters to shutter in Montreal and Quebec City for 28 days this month in response to rising COVID-19 cases.

Shares in Cineplex already took a hit after MGM delayed the release of James Bond movie No Time to Die until April 2021, due to the pandemic.