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Burnaby's movie theatre could become a COVID-19 vaccination site

Cineplex is just waiting for the go-ahead
COVID-19 vaccine
A senior male is about to receive a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine. - Photograph via Getty Images

The head of Cineplex Inc. is ready to turn Canada's multiplexes into temporary COVID-19 vaccination sites.

That could include in Burnaby at the city’s only movie theatre at Metropolis at Metrotown.

Ellis Jacob, CEO of the country's largest movie theatre chain, says he's reached out to provincial public health agencies nationwide to suggest his company "could help in a big way" as a space for distributing shots.

In Ontario, those talks have also involved Premier Doug Ford, Jacob said Thursday in an interview.

And while no decisions have been made, Jacob says health leaders seemed "very interested and receptive" to the idea.

With Cineplex's locations largely closed across the country, the theatre chain is looking for options as it grapples with a massive shutdown due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The company reported a steep fourth-quarter loss of $230.4 million on Thursday for the period ended Dec. 31, and with no guarantees for any semblance of a summer movie season, the months ahead are hardly certain.

Plans for vaccination sites are still very much in flux too, as officials balance vaccine availability and provincial approvals with choosing locations that make logistical sense.

Loblaw Cos. Ltd.-owned Shoppers Drug Mart and other pharmacies are among companies seeking approval as mass vaccination sites.

But preliminary plans for a vaccination rollout have been hampered by supply setbacks.

In Toronto, for example, a massive clinic was opened at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in January before it was shut down two days later due to vaccine shortages.

Jacob says once vaccination distribution picks up, he believes Cineplex theatres in smaller markets could be especially helpful because they're spaces that can accommodate people "all the time" and are familiar to local residents.

"Most people know their local theatres so it makes it easier than somebody saying, 'Hey, come to this particular place,' which they've never heard of," he added.

"So I think we could ramp it up and get going in a couple of days, as long as we know what they need and what the conditions are."

The company is waiting for the go-ahead from provincial leaders.

But Cineplex highlighted in its financial results what it called an "inconsistent" vaccine rollout that's playing out across Canada. The country is falling well behind the delivery of doses in the United States, and it raises many questions for exhibitors about the road ahead.

One of the biggest is whether major U.S. markets, such as New York and Los Angeles, may begin to reopen in the spring. That could lead a revenue-starved Hollywood to roll out its delayed movie titles before Canadian cinemas are back in business across the entire country.

If that were to happen, that would put Cineplex and other Canadian theatres at a major disadvantage, especially if anticipated hits such as Marvel's "Black Widow" and the latest "Fast & Furious" entry stick to their planned release dates in May.

"We feel it will put us in a great position, once we get reopened, as long as the gap between the U.S. and Canada is not too significant," Jacob told investors on the financial results conference call, taking a rosy outlook on the situation.

  • With files from the Canadian Press