Regal Cinemas owner Cineworld Group has confirmed the temporary suspension of its U.S. and U.K operations from Thursday, confirming reports that first emerged Saturday.

In a statement released Monday, the group said: “In response to an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape and sustained key market closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cineworld confirms that it will be temporarily suspending operations at all of its 536 Regal theatres in the U.S. and its 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse theaters in the U.K. from Thursday, 8 October 2020.”

The group attributed the closure to the pipeline of studio films drying up, as major U.S. markets, especially New York, remain closed. “Without these new releases, Cineworld cannot provide customers in both the U.S. and the U.K. — the company’s primary markets — with the breadth of strong commercial films necessary for them to consider coming back to theaters against the backdrop of COVID-19.”

The closure will impact some 45,000 employees. “Cineworld’s main priorities remain the safety of customers and employees, cash preservation and cost reduction,” the group said.

“This is not a decision we made lightly, and we did everything in our power to support safe and sustainable re-openings in all of our markets – including meeting, and often exceeding, local health and safety guidelines in our theatres and working constructively with regulators and industry bodies to restore public confidence in our industry,” Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said.

“We are especially grateful for and proud of the hard work our employees put in to adapt our theaters to the new protocols and cannot underscore enough how difficult this decision was, Cineworld will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate any future plans to resume operations in these markets at the appropriate time, when key markets have more concrete guidance on their reopening status and, in turn, studios are able to bring their pipeline of major releases back to the big screen.”

Cineworld’s decision to shutter its Regal Cinemas venues, which was first reported by Variety, and its U.K. and Ireland cinemas, comes just days after keenly anticipated James Bond film “No Time To Die” was pushed back to Apr. 2, 2021. Regal is the second largest domestic chain in the U.S., while Cineworld is the U.K.’s biggest cinema operator.

Sources told Variety over the weekend that the chain hasn’t yet set a reopening date, but could open back up only in 2021. If December releases such as “Wonder Woman 1984” stick, however, it could be possible to see Cineworld reopen earlier.

It’s believed that Cineworld has contacted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to highlight the dire straits the exhibition sector is in due to studios delaying tentpole movies.

The shock move came as a complete surprise to the company’s employees, whose U.K. staff found out about their potential job losses late on Saturday night in a preview of a Sunday Times front page, which first reported the U.K. and Ireland closures. Around 5,500 jobs will be affected.

On Sunday, Cineworld promised a “final decision” hadn’t yet been made, but told staff privately that closing cinemas in the U.S. and U.K. was an option “strongly being considered.”

https://variety.com/2020/film/global/regal-cineworld-confirms-temporary-suspension-of-u-s-u-k-operations-1234792590/