This presents a different issue than yesterday’s ban by China on entry by foreigners, even those who have resident and long-term visas. That ban might well intend to prevent re-seeding of coronavirus from new hotspots around the world, especially western Europe and the US. Today, Beijing abruptly reversed itself on reopening cinemas that would attract its own citizens, ordering them closed until further notice after granting permission to hundreds to reopen.

The Hollywood Reporter hears it won’t be a short break, either:

Over 600 movie theaters across China were given the green light to reopen their doors over the past week, but Beijing’s Film Bureau put out a notice late Friday ordering all theaters to go back into shutdown.

No official explanation for the sudden reversal was provided. Industry insiders instantly began speculating that the government was worried about a potential second wave of coronavirus infections.

The decision comes as a shock given the signals authorities had been sending as recently as a day ago. On Thursday, Shanghai’s municipal government announced that 205 of the city’s movie theaters had received permission to resume business on Saturday. Earlier in the week, China Film Group, the dominant state-backed distributor, unveiled a plan to let cinemas rerelease past blockbusters to help lure customers back into seats. …

“This second closure will not be a one or two-week issue,” an executive at a major exhibition company told The Hollywood Reporter, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of commenting on government policy related to the coronavirus. “They are going to be even more cautious when they attempt to reopen again — and this will set us back a long time.”

Theaters have been closed since January, but Beijing gave approval to over 500 to reopen last weekend, Deadline reports. The idea was to get their economy started up again, first by re-releasing some earlier and popular blockbusters to prime the pump, and then with new (and acceptable) Hollywood films coming down the pike. Deadline relied on China’s official numbers to claim that the issue may be imported cases:

As we reported earlier today, the city of Shanghai was set to re-open a further 205 cinemas on Saturday, indicating that this latest update appears to be a sudden u-turn in policy from a national level.

The spread of COVID-19 has slowed considerably in China recently, with only one locally-transmitted case recorded in the last three days. However, there has been a spike in imported cases, with some 53 being reported yesterday as having come from overseas. In response, the Chinese government has said it will stop foreign citizens entering the country as it looks to avert a second wave of the virus.

If that was the case, though, the travel ban should have been sufficient to deal with the issue. That ban is broad enough to exclude most people from entry. It’s the toughest in the world now, US News reports:

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Thursday that the country is temporarily suspending entry into China by foreign nationals who hold visas or residence permits beginning midnight on Friday. Entry by foreign nationals with business travel cards is also suspended.

Additionally, entry by people holding cruise or group tour visas will not be allowed. People with certain province-specific visas will also be denied entry, as will foreign tour groups from Hong Kong and Macao.

Travelers entering with diplomatic, service and courtesy visas will not be affected. Foreigners arriving in China for vital economic, trade, scientific, technological or emergency and humanitarian purposes may need to apply for visas at Chinese embassies or consulates.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China also announced on Thursday that all Chinese airlines are allowed to operate just one route to another country with no more than one flight per week. International airlines are also only allowed to operate one route to China with no more than one weekly flight.

While other countries have imposed varying levels of a travel ban, China’s is the strictest international ban since the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China’s Hubei province, began.

If imported cases were the issue, then a two-week closure at most would be sufficient. If China is closing the cinemas indefinitely, then it’s yet another indication that their official numbers may not reflect reality. Its faulty tests might be contributing to that disconnect, but reports on the ground in Hubei suggest that China has engaged in a propaganda effort to disclaim responsibility for the virus’ spread and to falsely suggest that they have contained it.

Xi Jinping wants to focus public attention more on China’s cooperation, too. Late last night, Xi and Donald Trump discussed the coronavirus response and the need for cooperation, a conversation hailed by Trump and China’s state media afterward:

“Both sides will benefit if we cooperate, both will lose if we fight each other,” Xi said, according to Xinhua. “Cooperation is the only correct choice. I hope the U.S side could take real actions. The two sides should work together to enhance cooperation fighting the virus and develop non-confrontational” relations, he said.

Xi also expressed concern about the outbreak in the U.S., which has surged ahead of China’s number of confirmed cases and turned New York City into a global epicenter. The number of infections worldwide has climbed past 530,000, with 24,000 deaths, less than three months after authorities disclosed a couple dozen cases in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

“I am very worried about the outbreak in the U.S., and I’ve noticed the series of measures being taken by the U.S. president,” Xi said. “Chinese people sincerely hope the outbreak can be contained very soon.”

That would have been much easier if China had been honest about the outbreak in the first place — and if they’d be honest about it now.