Cineplex CEO says cinemas 'could help in a big way' as potential vaccination sites

·2 min read

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

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 in an interview.

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

Plans for vaccination sites are still very much in flux 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."

Cineplex, which reported a steep fourth-quarter loss of $230.4 million on Thursday, has been grappling with a massive shutdown of its chain due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The movie theatre company says the loss amounted to $3.64 per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31 compared with a profit of $3.5 million or six cents per diluted share in the last three months of 2019.

Revenue totalled $52.5 million, down from $443.2 million a year earlier.

Cineplex announced earlier this week that it reached a deal with its lenders to further amend its credit agreement as it struggles through the financial impact of the COVID-19 virus on its operations.

It said the amendment allows for the suspension of financial covenant testing to continue until the fourth quarter of 2021 under certain conditions.

These include the completion of a minimum $200-million financing of second lien secured notes by March 31. Net proceeds must be used to repay debt, including $100 million that would be a permanent repayment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CGX, TSX:L)

David Friend, The Canadian Press