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It’s lights out for the cinema industry as effort to contain COVID-19 intensifies

As embattled cities around the world scramble to stem the spread of the coronavirus, enforcing lockdowns and closing non-essential businesses, the cinema industry has been hard hit. By the first week of April, close to 200,000 screens across all regions were shut down in a matter of eight weeks, propelling the industry into unchartered territory according to the latest findings in Omdia’s report, COVID-19 Impact on Cinema Activity–2020.

The chart below shows the total number of cinema screens worldwide that were closed over a span of six weeks from Feb. 6 to March 30, 2020 due to COVID-19.

When the outbreak first unfolded at the beginning of the year in China, the second largest territory in Box Office terms, the country initiated a lockdown which mandated the closure of cinemas. After more than a month, almost 500 cinemas were allowed to reopen, just to be forced to close again a week later. Within the Asia Pacific region, countries such as India, New Zealand, and Australia have followed suit, with only less than a handful not reporting full closure and resorting instead to closing on weekends or providing drive-in theatres.

Due to its proximity to Asia, Middle Eastern and North African countries have implemented early measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia were among the first few territories to close almost 400 screens early March. Within days, the largest markets of UAE and Israel went on to shutter a total of 1,000 screens. Recent additions to the coronavirus shutdown list include Nigerian cinema chains – Genesis, Silverbird Cinemas, and Filmhouse Cinemas.

One of the most severely affected Western European nations, Italy, launched its containment measures at the end of February, shutting down cinemas in the northern region before extending it nationwide days later. Equally badly affected by the pandemic, Spain has extended its lockdown to April 26. Over in the UK, cinema groups Vue and Odeon, shuttered all their sites days before the government imposed such measures. Currently, Sweden is the only territory where some cinemas remain open.

Noting the devastating impact of the pandemic, countries in the Central and Eastern European region have begun to implement measures as the number of COVID-19 cases begin to rise locally. Russia has been the last territory to introduce full closure of cinemas on March 24, while in Belarus, although cinemas have reported voluntary closures, it is not possible to estimate how many screens have been closed.

Although it was the last region to act, the North American region was the fastest in implementing them. Cinema giants, AMC, Regal, and Cinemark were the first to announce the closure of their cinemas from mid-March onward despite federal, regional, or local governments not expressly requesting it. Only a dozen drive-in cinemas remained open on the weekend of April 3-5. Just days before, in neighboring Canada, Cineplex and Landmark had already ceased the operation of all their sites.

Overall, Central America territories have adopted measures more slowly than territories in South America. With Mexico being the largest market, among the last to announce the closure of cinema screens late March. In contrast, Brazil is closing cinemas progressively as regional and local governments are adopting measures at different times.

Grim outlook
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry is expected to worsen should authorities extend lockdowns beyond April. Even if a vaccine becomes available in the next few months, it would take more than a year before it is made available to the mass market, as such most exhibitors have not specified re-opening dates. To help the industry tide over this challenging period, governments in countries like the US have agreed to provide economic relief to the exhibition business, among other sectors. BCS Bureau

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