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Will audiences return to the movies? They already have.

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Hollywood has always captured the fascination of the American public. But, as Covid-19 takes aim at global businesses, it’s been for the wrong reasons.

Even in spite of the encouraging news on vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have people finally believing that there may be an end in sight to the pandemic, there is still a lot of speculation about the death of moviegoing.

Many pundits think the theater industry will be felled by the longstanding effects of the pandemic on their businesses and consumer behavior. Studio releases keep getting pushed back, and back, and back again. Onlookers are convinced that consumers will be forever content to stream content at home because it’s easy, relatively safe and convenient.

The conclusion is that a global industry that has stood at the center of culture for a century — and pulled down a record $42.5 billion at the box office in 2019 — will be wiped out in just a few months.

Really?

As a resident of New York, I get the uncertainty about when we’ll return to normal. And I cannot fault media and investors here and my industry friends in Los Angeles, whose own experiences are wrapped in the same uncertainty that I feel every day.

But I also run IMAX, which gives me a different perspective than most — a veritable “front row seat” to what is happening in the rest of the world. We enable the creation and distribution of great movies in the best way possible on the largest screens in all four corners of the world, across 82 countries and territories.

And when people ask me if audiences will really return to the movies, my answer is simple: They already have.

Where the virus was handled with real public health discipline — places like Japan, South Korea, China, and throughout Asia — audiences are safely and enthusiastically returning. These are countries with tech-savvy consumers who have raced back to theaters, eschewing the isolation of in-home entertainment to once again enjoy a shared big-screen experience.

This is not prognostication. These are facts.

Earlier this month, China surpassed North America for the first time ever in overall box office — a crown the Middle Kingdom is unlikely to relinquish before the year is out. China’s thriving network of multiplexes has generated about $2 billion in global box office to date.

While the country has returned to normalcy in many ways — even masks are no longer required at most indoor venues — most Chinese mainlanders are still unable to travel abroad, and turning to the cinema for escapism.

IMAX weekly tickets sold at the Chinese box office have fully recovered to the levels seen in the back half of 2019, despite continued capacity limitations that were only recently raised to 75% and few Hollywood film releases — which typically account for more than a third of overall Chinese box office.

The biggest global blockbuster of the year hails not from Hollywood, but China. War epic “The Eight Hundred” — the first Chinese film shot entirely with IMAX cameras — has earned more than $370 million at the box office to date and is a top ten all-time release at the Chinese box office.

And yes, these are real numbers. We at IMAX have the receipts to prove it.

In Japan, manga sensation “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” opened to a whopping $44 million — blowing the previous best opening weekend in Japan out of the water — and crossed the $100 million in just two weeks.

The New York Times reported that a theater in Tokyo scheduled 42 showings of the film in a single day to accommodate unprecedented audience demand, from 7:00 a.m. until well after midnight. And a Japanese economic minister hailed it as “a spectacular achievement for the worlds of culture and entertainment as they struggle with the coronavirus.”

Back in July, South Korean zombie hit “Peninsula” was the first international film to step into the void as theaters began to reopen — scoring a $21 million opening weekend on its way to nearly $40 million across Asia, Europe and even the U.S.

From Japan to Russia, local film industries are taking advantage of the dearth of Hollywood films — showing the world the scope and scale of their ambition, and how many of their blockbuster productions now rival the best of Hollywood.

And they’re being greeted by massive audiences eager to leave behind their couches and, perhaps, the reality of a tough year.

There will of course be some changes, especially here in North America.

Streaming and windowing strategies will evolve. Streamers will continue to push further into blockbuster filmmaking, striving to create new franchises with filmmakers and creatives who want to see their work on the big screen. In a world of shortened windows, that creates a potential new content pipeline that theater owners should welcome.

Many North American theater owners are facing restructuring, which would be tough. But, in the end, less debt and a smaller, more focused and productive number of multiplexes might be a good thing.

The theatrical industry must embrace change, rather than try and run from it.

But we must also stand behind the magic of the shared experience of seeing a movie on the big screen. The biggest blockbuster films were made to be seen in the theaters. Streaming — with its many advantages — cannot replace the cultural and commercial impact of a theatrical release.

And think about it. Amid the relentless news cycle of 2020, doesn’t shutting off your phone, sitting in a darkened theater, shedding your worries and immersing yourself in the unparalleled sight and sound of a movie sound pretty great right about now?

From our global perch it’s clear that rumors about the death of moviegoing are exaggerated. And our mission at IMAX continues: to bring consumers the best movies with the best entertainment experience they can get anywhere.

Whether it’s next week or next year, of this you can be sure — we’ll see you at the movies.

—Richard Gelfond is chief executive of IMAX.


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New York Gov. Cuomo reopens Covid field hospital in Staten Island as hospitalizations accelerate

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wears a protective face mask as he arrives to speak during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., July 13, 2020.

Mike Segar | Reuters

New York will reopen a temporary field hospital on Staten Island to help treat an influx of coronavirus patients as the New York City borough faces a worsening outbreak, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

“Staten Island is a problem,” Cuomo said during a press briefing. There were 91 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Staten Island as of Sunday, a near threefold increase from three weeks ago, Cuomo said.

The field hospital was one of many New York opened in the spring as it fought back a wave of coronavirus infections that overwhelmed its hospital system and killed roughly 800 people every day. However, those emergency facilities largely went unused, Cuomo said.

“This was a planned emergency facility in the spring. We didn’t use it, now we need it,” he said.

Across the state, Covid-19 hospitalizations have jumped 122% over the last three weeks, he said, from 1,227 to 2,724 on Sunday. At that rate, the state projects thousands of more people will be hospitalized in the upcoming weeks. That’s before taking into account the upcoming holidays, which could accelerate the problem, the Democratic governor warned.

“These are dangerous times that we’re in,” Cuomo said. “Before you get to Thanksgiving, we’re already in a bad period.”

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.


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Rise in Covid spread puts hospital workers at risk: Allina Health CEO

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The sharp uptick in coronavirus cases across the Midwest is increasing health-care workers’ risk of getting infected, jeopardizing staffing levels needed to care for other Covid-19 patients, according to the CEO of a Minnesota hospital system.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, who leads Minneapolis-based Allina Health, told CNBC on Monday that the not-for-profit health network has more personal protective equipment, ventilators and available beds to care for Covid-19 patients than it had during the initial outbreak in the spring. Nurses and doctors, however, are harder to come by, she said.

“You cannot manufacture a talented and compassionate caregiver,” Wheeler said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview. “And that’s where we’re having trouble with now, especially with so many of them being affected or their family members being affected by community spread in our organization and in the community.”

Wheeler said for that reason, it is imperative people take seriously the public health strategies that can reduce the chain of coronavirus transmission in the community. Doing so reduces the likelihood that hospital workers become sick, she said.

“The need for masking, physical distancing and washing of hands, all those things — I know people are fatigued but so are the health-care workers, and you can keep our health-care workers healthier and able to care for you if you do those things,” Wheeler said. “These are incredibly skilled people, and you can’t replace them.”

Minnesota is one of 25 states seeing record-high hospitalizations for Covid-19 patients, based on a seven-day average, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. Minnesota also is one of eight states where daily deaths from Covid-19 are at all-time highs, with 48 people on average dying per day in the last week, according to CNBC’s analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

At least 3,297 people in Minnesota have died from Covid-19 during the pandemic, Hopkins data shows.

Wheeler’s concerns about staffing are shared elsewhere across the country, especially in some of Minnesota’s nearby states, which have been hit hard by the fall coronavirus spike. “Our geography in the Midwest, upper Midwest, has been seeing unprecedented numbers of infections and case growth,” she said.

Earlier this month, the head of the University of Wisconsin’s health network told CNBC its seven-hospital system was “short of staff all times, either because they have Covid or they have some other illness and we need to rule out Covid before we bring them back to work.”

“There is no surplus staff to deploy to other hospitals to help each other out, so we’re trying to equal the load. We’re all trying to keep patients local,” UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan said then.

The U.S. has continued to experience a worsening of its coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks, with daily average new cases setting a series of record highs. While Wheeler said a series of positive developments around Covid-19 vaccines are a “wonderful ray of hope,” the widespread availability is still some time away.

“We just have to hold on … so let’s take what is in our control — mask up, physical distance, wash your hands,” Wheeler said. “We can take that, and then we can bridge that to a time where there’s greater hope in the vaccines in the offing, then we’ll be doing a great service and we’ll have more lives here than lost.”

CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.


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Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine has some advantages over its peers

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AstraZeneca’s building in Luton, Britain.

Tim Ireland | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was found to be “highly” protective, potentially paving the way for a vaccine that is more affordable and easier to distribute than some of its peers.

An interim analysis of clinical trials showed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had an average efficacy of 70% in protecting against the virus.

Researchers said this figure could be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose, but the overall results show the vaccine’s efficacy is slightly lower than other leading candidates.

Both PfizerBioNTech and Moderna reported preliminary results last week showing that their respective Covid vaccines were around 95% effective.

However, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has previously said a vaccine that is 50% or 60% effective against the virus would be acceptable.

It is hoped a Covid vaccine could help to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 1.3 million lives worldwide.

Huge challenges remain before a vaccine can be rolled out. The global battle to secure prospective supplies has raised concerns about equitable access, while questions remain over the logistics of mass production, distribution, and cost.

Logistics

Equity analysts at Jefferies said it was “challenging” to compare the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine with those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, citing key differences in how the trials have been conducted.

The analysts highlighted weekly swabbing to detect Covid-19 among participants involved in AstraZeneca’s trials — not just confirmation of suspected cases by symptoms as in U.S. trials. They also stressed that a meningococcal vaccine was used for comparison, not placebo.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was assessed over two dosing regimens. One showed an effectiveness of 90% when trial participants received a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month later.

The other showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

No hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease were reported in participants receiving the vaccine.

A motorcyclist wears a protective mask while sitting at the side of the road at the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, India, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government will ensure that all 1.3 billion people nationwide will have access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon it is ready.

Sumit Dayal | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Jefferies analysts said that when it comes to storage, affordability and distribution, AstraZeneca’s vaccine appears to have an advantage.

The British pharmaceutical giant has said its vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing health-care settings. It has also pledged to distribute the vaccine at no profit “for the duration of the pandemic.”

The Financial Times has previously reported the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires two doses, is priced at approximately $3 to $4 — significantly lower than the prices reported for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

In comparison, Moderna has said its vaccine candidate remains stable at the temperature of a standard home refrigerator for up to 30 days. It can also be stored for up to six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In August, the U.S. biotechnology firm said it was charging $32 to $37 per dose for its vaccine for some customers.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and requires special storage equipment and transportation. This could make it difficult for some countries to distribute.

Pfizer is reportedly charging $20 per dose for its vaccine.

‘Big beneficiaries’

Strategists at Deutsche Bank described the news from AstraZeneca on Monday as a “big deal,” saying a string of encouraging vaccine developments in recent weeks constituted “an unprecedented victory for science.”

They suggested that emerging markets, most notably Brazil, Mexico, India and Indonesia, were likely to be the “big beneficiaries” of the AstaZeneca vaccine. That’s because “the cheaper cost of production and distribution of AstraZeneca is especially relevant for lower and middle-income countries,” they said.

AstraZeneca has said it is making “rapid progress” in terms of manufacturing, with a capacity to produce up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine next year.

The U.S. and India have agreed to procure 500 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to data compiled by researchers at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Centre.

The EU has reached a deal to buy 400 million, and the COVAX facility, a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, has ordered 300 million.

The U.K., Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Latin America excluding Brazil have each confirmed orders of at least 100 million doses.


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