Cinema halls across the country will be permitted to operate at full capacity from February 1 with adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Prakash Javadekar announced on Sunday.
Adequate physical distancing, mandatory face masks and sanitisation of auditorium after every screening are among the latest SOPs issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Sunday, after the government allowed cinema halls to operate at 100 per cent occupancy from Monday.
Digital booking of tickets and staggered show timings to avoid crowding will be encouraged, the minister said, releasing a set of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
“There is good news. In February, people can watch and enjoy films in theatres as we are allowing full occupancy in all cinema halls. Cinema halls can now open at 100 per cent capacity. We encourage as much online booking (of tickets) as possible,” Javadekar told sources.
The development comes days after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allowed cinema halls and theatres to operate with more people as per fresh COVID-19 reopening guidelines. According to new guidelines, no film shall be allowed to screen in containment zones and states and union territories may consider proposing additional measures as per their assessment.
To minimise physical contact, digital transactions should be the “most preferred mode” for booking tickets or payment. Contact number shall be taken at the time of booking of tickets to facilitate contact tracing.
“Sufficient number of counters at the box office shall be opened with adequate physical distancing norms, to prevent crowding during physical booking of tickets,” the SOPs read.
Adequate time intervals between successive screenings on a single screen as well as on various screens in a multiplex shall be provided to ensure “row-wise staggered entry and exit of the audience”.
Producers Guild of India and Multiplex Association of India (MAI) welcomed the decision.
Continuing with the basic health guidelines amid the pandemic, there should be availability of hand sanitisers, preferably in the touch-free mode at entry and exit points. A thermal screening of all visitors and staff will be carried out at entry points, with only asymptomatic individuals allowed to enter, according to the guidelines.
Installation and use of Aarogya Setu App “shall be advised to all,” the SOPs read.
Javadekar said he hopes people will welcome this move as the government is working towards relaxing several restrictions imposed due to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“Customers can also buy food and beverage from the stalls at the theatres and can carry it with them inside (the auditorium). These are all normal things but when the situation became abnormal due to COVID-19, we had to put these restrictions. These restrictions are on the verge to be relaxed,” the minister added.
The SOPs stated that the number of people in the elevators shall be restricted, with efforts to encourage the audience to avoid movement during the intermission.
“Longer intermissions may be used to allow audience seated in different rows of the auditorium to move in a staggered manner. The show commencement time, intermission period and finish time of a show at any screen shall not overlap with the commencement time,” the SOPs stated.
Mandatory wearing of face cover for staff and sanitisation of cinema auditorium after every screening are part of the SOPs which also directs theatre owners to make arrangements for regular cleaning and disinfection drive at the box office, food and beverage areas, employee and staff lockers, toilets, public areas, and back office. According to the guidelines, if any person visiting cinema hall is found COVID-19 positive the entire premise will have to be disinfected.
The ministry has also asked the cinema owners to make public service announcements on wearing masks, observing physical distancing and maintaining hand hygiene, before the screening, during intermission and at the end of the screening.
Any COVID-19 related stigmatisation or unruly behaviour shall be dealt with “strictly by coordination between the auditorium manager(s) and the local authorities”, the SOPs stated.
“Customers shall be encouraged to use cinema apps/QR codes, etc. for ordering food as much as possible and multiple sale counters in food and beverage area be made available wherever possible.”