NEW DELHI (AP) – After seven months of total blackout, cinemas reopened Thursday in various parts of India with few older titles at the marquee and shows limited to half capacity.
The reopening of cinemas comes at a time when the confirmed coronavirus count in India exceeded 7.3 million. The country records the highest number of daily cases worldwide and is expected to become the worst hit country in the pandemic in the coming weeks, surpassing the US.
Nearly 10,000 theaters were closed in mid-March due to coronavirus restrictions. Now they are becoming one of the last public places to reopen outside of high-risk areas. But they still pose some of the biggest infection risks: the virus can easily spread in closed spaces.
To minimize the danger, the seats are separated. Show times are staggered and digital payment is encouraged. Masks and temperature controls are mandatory.
“We have put everything in place, perhaps more than prescribed. The cinema’s full touch points feature antimicrobial films, ”said Gagan Kapur, regional head of PVR Cinemas in New Delhi.
Some Indian states were cautious.
Authorities in Mumbai, home of Bollywood, have delayed reopening cinemas for the time being. Southern Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, is the hardest hit state with nearly 37% of COVID-19 fatalities in the country.
However, the reopening of cinemas elsewhere is because trends indicate a decrease in new infections.
India saw a rise in July, adding more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But since mid-September, when daily infections reached a record 97,894, the spread of the coronavirus has been slower. So far this month, there are on average just over 70,000 cases every day.
But some experts say India’s figure may not be reliable due to poor reporting and inadequate health infrastructure. India also relies heavily on antigen testing, which is faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR testing.
Health officials have warned of the potential spread of the virus during the religious festival season starting later this month.
“The next 2 1/2 months will be very crucial for us in our fight against corona because of the winter season and the festival season,” said Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Wednesday. “It becomes the responsibility of every citizen to keep us vigilant and follow appropriate COVID-19 behavior to stop the spread of the infection.”
Associated Press video journalist Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.