Only 50 per show, please, says theater-operator AMC

By Supantha Mukherjee

(Reuters) – AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc said on Monday it will limit attendance at its U.S. theaters to a maximum of 50 people per show, effective immediately, due to the spread of coronavirus, sending its shares down 21%.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday issued  a guidance to cancel or postpone events throughout the country that consist of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

U.S. officials have so far recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths. Globally, more than 162,000 have been infected and over 6,000 have died.

AMC said it was adhering to CDC’s recommendation even though it was not a legal requirement for businesses in most U.S. jurisdictions.

“We anticipate that these headwinds are transitory and we expect a growth reset over the medium term,” Benchmark analysts said after downgrading the stock to “hold” from “buy”.

However, the brokerage said it was concerned if AMC will have enough financial flexibility to cover a longer-than-anticipated slowdown or a complete shutdown of its theatrical network.

AMC operates 1,004 theaters and 11,041 screens in 15 countries, including 636 theaters and 8,094 screens in the United States.

Theater chains, which have been facing off against streaming services Netflix and Disney+, were also hit by postponement of several films.

Hollywood studios have postponed upcoming blockbuster film James Bond thriller “No Time to Die”, Disney’s epic “Mulan” and the ninth “Fast and Furious” movie from Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures.

AMC and Cineworld Group Plc’s Regal Cinemas on Friday halved their seating capacity to allow more space between moviegoers to prevent virus transmission.

Marcus Theatres, an unit of Marcus Corp, also said on Monday it plans to limit capacity by 50%.

Rival Cinemark Holdings did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest steps it has taken.

Cinemark shares were down 20%, and those of London-listed Cineworld’s fell 17%.

Shares of AMC have more than halved so far this year.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shinjini Ganguli)

U.S. abortion rights groups fight new Missouri law in court

FILE PHOTO - A imaging table inside the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region, Missouri's sole abortion clinic, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Opponents of a new law in Missouri restricting most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy will ask a federal judge on Monday to stop the law from taking effect this week.

Abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in July and want a judge to put the law on hold until their legal challenge is heard in court.

The new law, signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and set to take effect on Wednesday, allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies and does not exempt victims of rape or incest.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the United States and activists say it effectively forbids most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant yet at eight weeks.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional.

“Without this relief, the bans will have a devastating effect on patients seeking access to abortion in the state,” lawyers wrote in the complaint.

In a perennially divisive moral and political fight, similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other U.S. states as Republican-controlled legislatures flex their muscles.

Efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, have been emboldened by two appointments by President Donald Trump giving conservatives a solid majority on the court.

Parson said in May the new law would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”

Plaintiffs in the Missouri complaint said the law conflicts with more than four decades of binding precedent, would prohibit “the vast majority of pre-viability abortions”, and denied patients healthcare they were entitled to.

Currently the state law allows abortions up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Attorneys for the governor’s office, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood were not available for comment early on Monday.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Darren Schuettler)