Empty chairs are seen during a movie time at City Gold cinema after its reopening, amidst the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, on Oct 15, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW DELHI – The Indian government on Sunday allowed 100 percent seating capacity in cinema halls, which had been shut since March 25 last year when the countrywide lockdown came into force to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gradually, in October last year cinema halls and theatres were permitted up to 50 percent of seating capacity.

“Seating arrangement inside the auditorium of the cinemas/theatres/multiplexes is to be allowed up to 100 percent seating capacity,” said a fresh order issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Sunday.

The new provisions will come into effect from Feb. 1.

Earlier, the federal home ministry had on Jan. 27 permitted the opening of cinema halls and theaters, authorizing the ministry of information and broadcasting to issue specific guidelines.

The fresh standard operating procedures (SOP) also stated that there should be “a proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises and physical distancing norms shall be ensured.”

The order issuing the fresh SOPs stated “The number of people in the elevators shall be restricted, duly maintaining physical distancing norms. Efforts shall be made to avoid overcrowding in the common areas, lobbies and washrooms during the intermission. The audience may be encouraged to avoid movement during the intermission.”

Now, longer intermissions may be used to allow the audience seated in different rows of the auditorium to move in a staggered manner. Staggered show timings shall be followed for multiple screens to avoid crowding, the order stated.

According to the new guidelines, the show’s commencement time, intermission period and finish time of a show at any screen shall not overlap with the commencement time, intermission period or finish time of a show at any other screen in a multiplex.

The adequate physical distancing of at least six feet would be followed outside the auditoriums, common areas and waiting areas at all times. Use of face covers/masks are mandatory at all times inside the cinema halls and theatres.

Availability of hand sanitizers would be mandatory, preferably in the touch-free mode, at entry and exit points as well as common areas within the premises. Respiratory etiquettes would to be strictly followed, including strict practice of covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing off used tissues properly.

Frequent sanitization of the entire premises, common facilities, and all points which come into human contact, like handles, railings, etc. shall be ensured. The cinemas/theaters/multiplexes auditorium shall be sanitized after every screening.

Till Sunday, a total of 10,746,183 COVID-19 cases have been registered in India with 154,274 deaths.