The Hong Kong International Film Festival, scheduled to have kicked off on the last day of March, has been indefinitely postponed due to an ongoing wave of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
The decision comes as little surprise given the severity of the city’s current infection surge. Since Feb. 15, Hong Kong has reported about 5,000 new daily infections, with cases threatening to overwhelm local healthcare and quarantine facilities.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief executive said that the government would require the city’s entire population of nearly 7.5 million people to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing in March. Local cinemas have been shuttered since early January, and city officials said earlier this week that social distancing measures would be extended until April 20.
Hong Kong’s government, acting under ever-growing deference to mainland Chinese policy, have held fast to Beijing’s “COVID zero” policy of total elimination of the virus. Although Hong Kong had great success in managing the early phases of the pandemic, the high transmissibility of the omicron variant has resulted in spiraling caseloads since the start of 2021.
The city’s mandatory three-week quarantine policy for all inbound travelers already had assured that this year’s film festival would have been an entirely local affair. Hong Kong Filmart, the influential international content rights market that typically runs in tandem with the festival, opted months ago to take place as an entirely virtual conference this year. The online-only Filmart will carry on with its planned dates of March 14-17, according to organizers.
The Hong Kong film festival was scrapped in 2020 because of the first phases of the pandemic, and last year it took a hybrid online-offline form. With Hong Kong tethered to China’s “COVID zero” policy, many local industry figures believe it could be years before the festival is again able to invite the world to its screenings.