BEIJING, July 20 (Xinhua) -- Tickets sold like hotcakes and audiences burst into cheers as cinemas in most parts of the Chinese mainland reopened Monday, ending months-long closures meant to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.
The China Film Administration, in a circular last week, allowed cinemas in low-risk areas to resume operation with effective epidemic prevention measures in place.
"A First Farewell," an award-winning movie revolving around two children in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, was among the few new movies that hit the screen Monday, while many others were re-screened box office hits, including Chinese sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth" and 2017 animation "Coco."
In many cities, tickets for Monday screenings were quickly sold out. Some cinemas offered discounted tickets for as low as 3 yuan (43 U.S. cents) to lure back fans who had switched to watching movies online during the outbreak.
Despite the limited number of tickets available and mandatory wearing of masks, cinema operators hailed the reopening as a good start for them to return to profitability.
According to Insun International Cinema in Wuhan, Hubei Province, before 3 p.m. Monday, all its tickets for the day were sold out.
"The good ticket sales are beyond imagination. Monday is a workday, so we didn't expect so many moviegoers," said Chen Yabin, manager of the cinema.
In Shanghai, audiences in a cinema cheered when the dragon-shaped screening license appeared on the screen, which marks the start of a movie in the Chinese mainland.
The eastern Chinese city also saw more than 100,000 tickets sold in 10 minutes Monday morning for movies to be screened during the Shanghai International Film Festival, which will kick off Saturday.
In Beijing, which lowered its COVID-19 emergency response from level II to III Monday, cinemas were still in preparation for reopening. Cinemas in some southern Chinese cities also said the preparation had not finished as the prolonged closure and the rainy season left their seats moldy.
A guideline issued by the Chinese Film Circulation and Projection Association asked cinemas to limit their attendance per show to 30 percent capacity and sell non-adjacent tickets in every other row.
Moviegoers must make real-name reservations, wear masks and those who do not know each other should keep a distance of at least one meter, the guideline read.
"We will designate seven to eight employees to enforce epidemic prevention measures. They will conduct inspections during the screening to remind the audience to keep their masks on," said You Wuqiang, manager of a cinema in the city of Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Tan Sishu, assistant manager of BeiChen Fortune Center Cinema in the city of Kunming, Yunnan Province, said they will disinfect movie halls and shopping areas every day. Items frequently touched by the audience, including seat armrests and 3D glasses, will be regularly cleaned.
"We have stopped selling coke and popcorn. Moviegoers can bring mineral water inside, but we still recommend them to drink in a dedicated resting area," Tan added.
Tan said the cinema had been avidly waiting for the reopening. Its staff even peddled cinema beverages to recoup some losses incurred in the past few months when the cinema remained closed.
By Monday noon, the cinema had received more than 400 movie patrons, beating their expectation of only 200 moviegoers on the first day of reopening.
Yang Ya'nan, a college student in Kunming, bought a ticket for "A First Farewell" but was refused entry because she forgot to wear a mask.
"Luckily, the cinema workers handed us free masks," she said. "We understand the cinema's strict requirements and their enforcement makes us feel safe."
China is the world's second-largest movie market, but its film industry has been dealt a hefty blow by COVID-19 after cinemas nationwide were closed from late January to help contain the spread of the virus.