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Malls, movie theatres, restaurants and retail stores that were seeing green shoots in business as people started stepping out and spending, will be hit again as the Delhi government on Tuesday announced several curbs in view of the rising covid-19 cases. 

The fresh order has asked cinemas to shut down and imposed restrictions on timings of malls, markets and restaurants, which the stakeholders said will severely impact business. 

 “Delhi Government’s decision to shut down Cinemas in Delhi…has caused massive uncertainty and could lead to irreparable damage for the Indian Film Industry," said Kamal Gianchandani, president, Multiplex Association of India. 

Movie theatres, especially in north India that had just begun to see signs of recovery, with the release of big-ticket Hindi films. Delhi, along with Maharashtra, contributes nearly 60% to Hindi box office. That explains why Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey scheduled for release on December 31 has been deferred.  

 “After being allowed to reopen, cinemas have already demonstrated an ability to operate safely for the public and employees via usage of enhanced ventilation systems, enhanced hygiene, and other safety protocols. Not a single outbreak of covid-19 anywhere around the world has been traced to a cinema," said Gianchandani. He urged government to consider introducing “double vaccination requirement" to enter cinemas, as is the case in some of the other states, including Maharashtra, he added. Alternatively, the seating capacity restriction of 50% can be reintroduced.  

Calling it a major blow for the Hindi film market, film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said if the scare and restrictions continue, other films could follow Jersey in pushing release dates. Prashant Kulkarni, senior vice-president, sales, marketing and strategic alliances at Carnival Cinemas said it was a passing phase but bad for business and consumer sentiment since films like Sooryavanshi and No Way Home had just helped restart recovery. 

Meanwhile, restaurants, while allowed to remain open, will have to operate at 50% capacity, from 8 am to 10 pm. Shops in markets and malls dealing with non-essential goods and services will be allowed to open as per the odd-even formula between 10 am to 8 pm, the order said. 

 “It’s been a tough 18 months for restaurants. This ongoing quarter, the restaurant industry was seeing green shoots and recovery was happening. Now 50% occupancy cap and timing reduced to 10pm is like a double blow," said Kabir Suri, president, National Restaurant Association of India. “While 50% occupancy could have stayed, the timing should have actually been increased, so that you could space out customers coming in. We are already clocking massive cancellations. This is detrimental to the business," he said. 

Priyank Sukhija, CEO of First Fiddle Restaurants that runs Lord of The Drinks, Dragonfly Experience, Diablo and Plum By Bent Chair, across India including in Delhi, complained that while restaurants must shut by 10 pm, other businesses have been allowed normal operating hours even though on odd and even basis 

Gurmehar Sethi, co-founder of Klap and Thai food restaurant Ziu said in order for restaurants to be shut by 11 pm, they will need to start winding down between 9-10 pm so that their staff can get home. There is also no clarity on whether they will be able to make food deliveries or if they will require passes for the same. 

Meanwhile, Yogeshwar Sharma, executive director, and CEO, Select Infrastructure Pvt Ltd expects winter sales to be significantly impacted with the fresh restrictions. "Business could be down by at least 50% since these last days of December and early days of January are big on business, especially for high-ticket winter clothing," he said. 

Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, at industry body Retailers Association of India (RAI) said efforts are required to ensure social distancing, masking and even studying the rate of hospital admissions before taking such measures. 

 “I think the Delhi restrictions have come a bit too early. They should have been more careful about ensuring people are double-vaccinated and well-masked rather than immediately shutting down businesses. This is going to have a big impact on access, economy and profitability," he said.  

The restrictions come as retail sales in the month of November grew 9% over November 2019 or pre-covid period, according to a pan-India Retail Business Survey by the Retailers Association of India. Recovery was led by the consumer durables and electronics segment followed by sports goods and footwear, according to findings of the survey released on 20 December. 

 “It's a nightmare that has returned. We hope that other states don't do this kind of overnight shutdowns and give retailers and consumers time to plan," Rajagopalan said.

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