Halls may open from next month, with limited viewers and strict social distancing rules

NEW DELHI: The Centre is likely to allow cinema halls to reopen from next month under strict social distancing rules.

Well-placed government sources told ET that the Centre is likely to include this easing in the guidelines to be issued by the end of August.

The standard operating procedure for theatres would include seating customers in alternate rows. Each row would leave three seats empty between two sets of bookings, which means a family would be able to sit together but three-seat apart from another family. Cinema halls will operate at one-third capacity and have a maximum capacity cap.

Among other norms, the air temperature inside the hall would be kept at 24 degrees or more. A two-ply mask would be mandatory for customers and awareness messages on hand sanitisation would be beamed during intermission.

According to sources, the group of secretaries, attached to the Group of Ministers on Covid management, has given a go-ahead for opening of cinema halls.

While there is clarity on allowing standalone cinema halls to reopen, the rules for multi-screen cinemas in malls are still being worked out.

This follows representations from industry bodies and cinema hall owners who have sought permission to begin operations on the ground that almost all businesses, including gyms and yoga centres, have been allowed to reopen in most cities.

A senior government official told ET, “The experience of the past two months of staggered unlocking has shown that even though shopping malls and similar public places have been opened, people are not overcrowding these places. We are now considering opening up cinema halls.”

According to sources, the group of secretaries had discussed the issue of reopening of cinema halls even before “unlock” guidelines were issued last month. But the government deferred a decision after the health ministry said it would lead to overcrowding at a time when the government has not even opened up health centres.

However, now the government is of the view that after giving permission for most economic activities to start, cinema halls can be allowed to reopen with touchless ticketing and regular sanitisation. Cinema hall management would be required to strictly follow touchless ticketing over smart phones. After every screening, complete sanistisation would be mandatory. Cinema hall owners would be encouraged to employ technological solutions which enable sanitisation of vast areas in less than half an hour.

Sources indicated that there could be phased reopening of cinema halls, with standalone halls opening first and then multi-screen halls. A call on this will be taken by the group of ministers.

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