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In a bid to restart the economy, the government on Saturday issued guidelines for a phased re-opening of areas outside the containment zones, allowing hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services as well as shopping malls to open from June 8. However, it said that the ministry of Health and Family Welfare will issue Standard Operating Procedures for the above activities in consultation with central ministries and departments for ensuring social distancing to contain the spread of covid-19.

Restaurants that have seen a huge slump in business will see additional relief from the latest relaxations as they can now open for dine-in business after a gap of over two months. Restaurants were earlier given permission for take-aways and online deliveries. However, restaurants said they will await clarity on state-specific guidelines. " Fundamentally, we are happy to restart. But we have to first look at the new guidelines that various states will come up with," Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) said.

Moreover, Katriar added that restaurants that have sought new rental arrangements with malls will need to draw up fresh commercial agreements as they look at opening more outlets. "Secondly, commercial terms with landlords need closure too," he added.

Nakul Chandra, CEO of Riga Foods that runs chef Ritu Dalmia’s chain of Italian restaurant Diva, said “It seems that restaurants that open can’t serve liquor as that is prohibited. Which means we will open with social distancing measures and can’t serve liquor. This doesn’t give us much room to generate revenue. Also, there’s a 9 pm curfew," he said. “Also we have to wait for Delhi Guidelines to be issues on what exactly social distancing will mean for a restaurant," he added.

Estimates by CRISIL Research released earlier this month said that India's protracted lockdown would dent the country's organised dine-in restaurants business that are are on course for a 40-50% cut in revenue this fiscal. Analysts at CRISIL said that a lockdown since late March had led to a 90% reduction in sales in the organised restaurant sector.

Amitabh Taneja, Chairman, Shopping Centres Association of India, hwoever, welcomed the decision. "We welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to allow shopping centres, malls to open starting 8th of June. SCAI has made a stringent set of SOPs which are submitted to the MHA as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) and other authorities. The relaxation is certainly going to help ease an unimaginable amount of pressure that was put on the industry following the lockdown. Revival and resurgence is a long process, which has just about begun. We will await further information from MOHFW to ensure the guidelines are followed in letter and spirit."

The hospitality sector, too, welcomed MHA guideline which allowed hotels to reopen from 8 June. The sector which has come to a screeching halt due to lockdown since March has been bleeding with massive loss of revenues, jobs as well as cash flows.

Although the order is subject to state government, it is a welcome move because almost three months have passed without any economic activity in the hospitality sector said Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, vice president of Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI).

"We have been literally wiped out. I don't see any encouraging business starting immediately, but at least things have started rolling," he added.

Despite multiple pleas and various industry associations making representation to the government, the sector did not receive any relief package in the 20 lakh central government package. The industry associations had proposed a dedicated interest and collateral free long term fund for paying salaries and operating costs and for a minimum of 12 months of complete waiver of fixed central and state statutory and banking liabilities without any penal or compounding interest which have not been addressed.

(Saumya Tewari contributed to this story)

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