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The Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s (DDMA) decision to ease restrictions was welcomed by shop-owners, mall developers, and restaurant owners as the capital rescinded weekend curfews and allowed restaurants and cinemas to operate at 50% capacity after weeks of closures.

Earlier this month, restaurants in the capital had been directed to open only for takeaways. Late last month—in a bid to curb the spread of covid-19 infections, the Delhi government had asked cinemas to shut down apart from imposing restrictions on timings on malls and markets. The city was also placed under a weekend curfew; on weekdays, the odd-even rule was enforced in malls and markets. 

However, in a meeting held Thursday by the DDMA to review the covid-19 situation in Delhi it was decided to gradually ease restrictions while ensuring covid-appropriate behaviour.

This was done after detailed discussions with experts, in view of the decline in positive cases, Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal said on Twitter on Thursday evening. 

On Wednesday—Delhi reported 7,498 covid-19 cases on Wednesday. The positivity rate stood at 10.5%. Delhi continues to impose a night curfew.

 “It was agreed to revoke weekend curfew and to open markets without the odd even rule. It was also decided to open all Government offices with 100% strength up to Grade 1 level. Restaurants, bars and cinema halls/theatres to operate up to 50% capacity," Baijal tweeted. 

The government has also permitted marriage related gatherings to be held with 50% capacity of the venue subject to a maximum of 200 guests.

January has been a challenging month for retailers as the capital saw fresh restrictions. However, with fewer hospitalizations compared to the previous wave—retailers are hoping for a quick bounce back.

 “This will definitely provide the much-needed oxygen support to restaurant industry in Delhi for survival. I would also like take this opportunity to urge Delhi Government to lift the night curfew and allow us full operating hours which would not only revive the beleaguered sector but also reduce overcrowding and prevent further job losses," said Kabir Suri, President, National Restaurant Association of India.

Last three weeks were challenging for restaurants, said others. 

 “Consumer sentiment was not the best as people did not indulge much in ordering food. For our restaurants, the loss was almost 90% as the revenue generated through food delivery had made up for approximately 10-15% of the total sales," said Ajit Shah, Partner, White Panda Hospitality which owns restaurants like Tera Vita, Dadel & Kiko-Bā.

Shah said it will be challenging to assess the impact of the closures on the capital’s restaurants industry until curbs are fully lifted. “But once it opens for good, we will be treading our first step towards recovery," he said.

Traders’ body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) welcomed the DDMA’s decisions. Traders in Delhi have lost 70% of monthly business over the 25-day period, according to CAIT estimates. 

"The withdrawal of odd-even system and weekend curfew will ease the business environment in Delhi to a great extent and the business can be revived now though it may take a longer period for the trade to come out from the slumber caused due to covid restrictions in Delhi," Praveen Khandelwal, CAIT’s secretary general said.  

In a breather to cinema operators—film trade experts say this is could be a good beginning to restarting the machinery yet again after the brief spell of recovery for the exhibition business came to a halt last month. 

Several big films like RRR, Radhe Shyam and Akshay Kumar's Prithviraj are expected to announce dates in the coming days while smaller titles like Badhaai Do have already set eyes on the middle of February. 

 “Delhi was the one big market that was shut so all plans were kept on hold. There should be a flood of movies now. The good thing is there is no weekend curfew which is crucial for business," film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said. 

He added that the 50% capacity rule does not matter at a time when the idea is simply to bring people back to cinemas and in the initial weeks when there are fewer films to play, the cap can be offset by running movies on multiple screens at a given property. Maharashtra and Delhi together account for over 60% of Hindi box office in India. 

Removal of the odd-even protocols along with a drop in cases will help restore consumer confidence, said others. 

 “I think the demand was already there but with relaxed restrictions and cases down people will be more comfortable to step out. It will help retailers to complete their sales period properly," said Abhishek Bansal, executive director, Pacific Group that operates malls in Delhi-NCR. 

(Lata Jha contributed to this story)

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