Cineworld, the worlds second biggest cinema operator, is preparing to close all its screens in the us and uk after further delays to the new james bond film pushed its struggling business to the brink.

The indefinite closure of 90 per cent of cineworlds screens, which is expected as soon as this week, raises fundamental questions over the viability of the company and a cinema sector devastated by the pandemic.

In a fight for survival, cineworld has already asked its lenders to show leniency over its debts. last month the company posted a $1.6bn pre-tax loss for the first six months of the year, during which time its net debt rose to $8.2bn.

The closures include cineworlds 543 regal theatres in the us and 128 cinemas in the uk, which were banking on novembers release of the latest james bond to boost ticket sales.

The closures will last until a fuller list of hollywood releases are confirmed, according to people familiar with the plans, suggesting the closure could extend into the first quarter of 2021.

More than 30,000 staff are expected to be affected worldwide, including 5,500 in the uk. the company has yet to disclose how many job losses it expects, or what arrangements it may put in place to encourage staff to return when cinemas reopen. cineworld declined to comment.

The company has said it has sufficient access to loans and cash to survive into next year. it is keeping open its cinemas in smaller markets such as slovakia and hungary where local films have proved popular and restrictions are less stringent.

The mgm film no time to die had been due out on november 12 in the uk. the film will be the actor daniel craigs last in which he appears as the british spy. it was the remaining blockbuster in a year that has seen the withdrawal of dozens of hundred-million dollar films because of the pandemic.

Mooky greidinger, cineworlds chief executive, told the financial times last month that the group had received assurances from mgm that bond would come out as planned and that cineworld was building up for a big release of the film across its multiplexes.

We see a big appetite from customers to go back to the movies but they want a product, he said.

However, returns on the christopher nolan science fiction epic tenet, which debuted in september, suggest that audiences are reluctant to return. the film cost roughly $200m to make but has so far made only $41m domestically, according to industry site box office mojo.

The delay of the bond film leaves cinema owners without any big name releases until late december when warner brosduneandwonder woman: 1984are scheduled for release.

Cineworld is in a fragile position having come into the crisis with high levels of debt following its $3.6bn acquisition of the regal cinema chain in 2018. it had been in the middle of buying indebted canadian group cineplex when the pandemic hit and withdrew from the transaction. the two groups are suing each other for breaches of contract.the motion picture association and other trade groups this week made a plea to the us congress for government aid for cinemas, warning that just over two-thirds of small and midsized cinema companies were in danger of failing due to the pandemic.