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India took a decisive step towards unlocking almost everything, with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday lifting restrictions on cinema halls, schools, and swimming pools as a part of its fifth tranche of guidelines to revive business and other activities.

Cinema halls, theaters, and multiplexes are permitted to reopen from October 15, the MHA said, with up to 50 per cent of their capaciousness , that standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be issued by the Ministry of data and Broadcasting. Entertainment parks and similar places have also been allowed.

The MHA said states and Union Territories had been given the pliability to require a choice on the reopening of faculties and training institutions during a graded manner after October 15. Swimming pools would be allowed to open for training of sportspeople, it said.

The guidelines have made it clear that states and Union Territories must not impose any local lockdowns outside containment zones without prior consultation with the Centre.

The reopening of cinema halls after six months may be a big positive, said experts, though Maharashtra during a separate set of guidelines on Wednesday said theatres within the state would be shut till October 31.

On Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said cinema halls within the state could function with 50 participants or less from October 1.

"The opening of cinemas with 50 per cent occupancy is far better than the sooner indicated 25 per cent cap. this is often a positive for the world , though states like Maharashtra won't open in October. Other states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu can also not open in October," Karan Taurani, vice chairman , research, Elara Capital, said.

The country's leading multiplex operators on Monday had said losses were growing and jobs were at stake with theatres being shut since March.

In a statement, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) had said the revenue loss to the film exhibition industry was to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore a month thanks to the closure of cinema halls.

"Malls, airlines, railways, retail, hotels, gyms, bars and metros are permitted to reopen. Cinemas however have remained closed since March and are better equipped to manage crowds during a stringent hygienic environment," the body said.

The MAI had ssued SOPs for maintaining social-distancing norms and was prepared to handle all strictures laid out by the govt , it said.

P V Sunil, director , Carnival Cinemas, said it had been a "now or never" situation for the exhibition industry, since the October-December period was a crucial quarter for the world .

"You typically have big releases between October and December. With cinema halls permitted to reopen in October, we should always be ready to suits the new normal when the Diwali period kicks in by November," he said.

Blockbusters like Sooryavanshi, starring Akshay Kumar; Lal Singh Chaddha, starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan; and 83, featuring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, are watching the December quarter for a possible release, industry sources said.

Estimates are that maintenance costs of movie halls could increase by 20-25 per cent within the post-Covid world, though multiplexes could catch up on it by cutting headcount within properties as operations increasingly get digitised to minimise contact. Occupancy levels, which before the Covid-19 crisis, stood at 35-36 per cent on a mean for multiplexes, could settle at levels of around 25-30 per cent after the initial three to 6 months’ lapse following reopening.

Some of the measures to be implemented with theatres reopening would be seat distancing, contactless service and rigorous hygiene from entry to exit. Movie-goers would be encouraged to pre-book their tickets and meals, wear masks when watching films and maintain strict lane discipline when entering and exiting movie halls.

Reacting to the Unlock 5.0 guidelines, Chandra it Banerjee, DG, CII, said these would help improve many affected sectors. "The government's strong message to states to enforce local lockdowns during a very restricted manner and only after consultation with the Centre is most encouraging. Industry has been facing challenges in labour availability and movement of the availability chain and therefore the implementation of Unlock 5.0 will clearly resolve these issues, enabling near-normal operations.”

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