U.S. movie theater owners ask federal government for coronavirus relief

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LOS ANGELES, March 18 (Reuters) - A trade group representing U.S. movie theater owners on Wednesday called on the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration to provide emergency relief to help operators weather the unprecedented closures amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) urged U.S. lawmakers to approve loan guarantees to help cover fixed costs, tax benefits for employers providing support to employees, and other measures.

"The business model of the movie theater industry is uniquely vulnerable to the present crisis," the group said in a statement.

Most movie theaters in the United States, including those owned by AMC Entertainment and Cineworld Group Plc's Regal Cinemas, shuttered this week to help prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading.

Movie theaters employ more than 150,000 people in the United States, from ticket sellers to projectionists and cleaning staff, according to the association.

Hollywood studios have postponed some major upcoming movie releases including Walt Disney Co's action epic "Mulan" and its Marvel movie "Black Widow," which was supposed to kick off the summer blockbuster season on May 1.

Release dates for both films are now unknown.

The movie theater association said it had approved $1 million of its own reserves to be used to aid theater employees who were out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles Editing by Matthew Lewis)