Cinema, retail, and shopping industries have just begun their recovery process and won't be able to bear another shutdown, according to industry associations who have urged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to not impose a lockdown in Maharashtra where COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
The Multiplex Association of India (MAI), Retail Association of India (RAI), and Shopping Centres Association of India has said they are following all the safety protocols mandated by the government and should not be the first casualty of such restrictions.
Maharashtra, whose capital Mumbai is home to Hindi cinema, on Thursday reported 43,183 new COVID-19 cases, it's highest one-day rise since the pandemic began, taking its cumulative caseload to 28,56,163 a health official said. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope recently said people should be ready for stringent measures in the coming days to curb the spread of COVID-19 and that imposing a lockdown is the last option for the state government. Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on Thursday also hinted that some restrictions could be introduced in the city from Friday.
Kamal Gianchandani, CEO PVR Pictures and president of MAI, said the cinema industry is mentally reconciled with the fact that they will have to ''co-exist with the virus for now''.
''There's a sense of deja vu for sure because we all have painful memories of the lockdown,'' he told PTI in an interview, emphasizing the need for stricter enforcement of safety protocols and faster vaccination of people.
Gianchandani said businesses should be permitted to function because that's the only way for them to sustain.
''If we can't function, the whole cycle comes to a stop, and then we cannot sustain ourselves. So, if at all, they're thinking of a second lockdown, we would urge them to reconsider their decision and take a much more long-term and pragmatic approach.
''Businesses, the economy, and the virus have to co-exist. You can't manage and contain one at the cost of the other. It's not an either-or situation anymore. It has to be an 'and' situation,'' he added.
Several films like ''Haathi Mere Saathi'' (Hindi version), ''Bunty Aur Babli 2'', and ''Chehre'' that were up for release in March and April have been pulled by the makers from the calendar due to uncertainty amid the pandemic.
Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, RAI, told PTI that a lockdown would be a non-analytical and knee-jerk reaction.
''Because it means we have given up hope that we can control the situation, that in the last one year, we have not learned anything new. So, this is a really non-tenable situation.'' A lockdown will create a domino effect on businesses, supply chain as well as jobs, he warned.
''When the businesses were at 30 or 40 percent levels, a whole lot of MSME suppliers were impacted. More than 20 per cent of the retail workforce got impacted. Thankfully, we were able to bring back some amount of economic activity and retailers went out of their way to ensure people got their jobs back.
''But we cannot afford this kind of lockdown. Forty-six million people work in the retail sector across the country in various forms. A lockdown is going to cripple all of them,'' Rajagopalan warned.
Mukesh Kumar, chairman, and director on board, Shopping Centres Association of India, said the industry is already suffering because of the previous decisions such as mandatory testing for the malls and reducing the timings.
''We are just recovering. We have reached almost 60 percent of the footfall and 90 percent of sales in March but then it started going downhill once the notification came about checking people coming to the mall and that they must have a negative RT PCR report… Then the second news came about reducing the timings, so these were all bad news.
''Let's hope that this doesn't happen because we will not be able to take another lockdown. Another shutdown will be discriminatory only for the malls, theatres and F&B,'' Kumar told PTI.
According to SCAI, they cater to just one percent of the population and follow stringent safety protocols with malls ensuring that they don't have more than one person per square foot.
''If you look at the number of people in the mall, it is very limited. They are being monitored and you can't get a safer place than the mall where everything is controlled, monitored, reviewed, and audited. You can't have this in markets, railway stations, airports, or any other crowded place. In the event, any action is taken, the first casualty is the mall, theatres, and the F&B,'' Kumar claimed.
Despite the rising COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra, Gianchandani is cautiously optimistic about the future provided theatres are allowed to operate in Maharastra, a crucial state for business.
''I remain confident as at this point, there is no change of dates as we speak. 'Sooryavanshi' is coming on April 30 and 'Radhe' is scheduled for May 12 or 13, depending on the Eid. So as we speak, these films are releasing on the dates that they have announced, but at the same time, the cases continue to worsen, there would be concerns.
''I do think that government machinery and administration in districts are doing everything possible to contain the spike in cases. And my sense is they would be able to show results fairly quickly. So we remain quite optimistic that these films will release on time,'' Gianchandani noted.
Rajagopalan said instead of imposing restrictions, the government should be utilizing resources like malls in the vaccination drive.