California says movie theaters can reopen by Friday with crowd limits

Cinemas must cap attendance at 25% of normal capacity, or a maximum of 100 people

Movie theaters can reopen in California as early as Friday if they receive approval from local officials, limit attendance and impose other safeguards to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state's health department said on Monday.

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Theaters closed their doors around the world in mid-March to help curb the coronavirus pandemic.

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To welcome back guests, cinemas must cap attendance at 25% of normal capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower, according to California Department of Public Health guidelines.

Among other precautions, ticket holders must be told to stay six feet apart and to wear masks except when eating or drinking.

Hollywood movie studios are hoping enough theaters will be open to hold a late-summer blockbuster season. AT&T Inc's Warner Bros currently plans to release director Christopher Nolan's thriller "Tenet" on July 17, and Walt Disney Co aims to debut the action epic "Mulan" on July 24.

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In California, theaters must receive approval for their reopening plans from county health officials, who should consider rate of coronavirus infection, local preparedness to handle new cases and other metrics, the state guidelines said.

The most important region to the film industry is Los Angeles County, the biggest movie market in the United States. Officials there reported an uptick in new infections over the weekend.

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The National Association of Theatre Owners has said it expects 90% of theaters worldwide to be open by mid-July.

Cinemark Holdings Inc plans to open five theaters in Texas on June 19 to test new safety procedures. Cineworld Group Plc, owner of Regal Cinemas in the United States, said it believes all of its theaters will reopen in July.

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AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc, the world's largest theater chain, has said its theaters will remain shuttered through June.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christian Schmollinger)