Hours after the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad announced on Friday that the civic body would recommend to the State government to reduce the occupancy in cinemas by 50%, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa dismissed reports of such a move on social media.
The announcement was made after Mr. Prasad’s statement triggered a negative reaction from the Kannada film industry, including a response from actor Puneeth Rajkumar whose film Yuvarathnaa is slated to be released on April 1.
Over the last fortnight, Bengaluru has been reporting a gradual rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, but witnessed a steep increase over the last two days, prompting the civic body to recommend a host of measures including closure of gyms, swimming pools and other such amenities, apart from restricting occupancy in film theatres.
Speaking to the media on Friday, Mr. Prasad conceded that there was no data on the number of cases that could be attributed to theatres running at full occupancy. But nonetheless, the civic body will recommend that occupancy be restricted to 50% again with alternate seats left vacant, he said. Incidentally, Maharashtra reintroduced the 50% occupancy rule on Friday.
His announcement did not go well with the film industry as it was only on February 1 that the government lifted occupancy restrictions for theatres in the city, following which two big budget films – Pogaru and Roberrt –hit the screens drawing full houses. This has caused much consternation among health officials who are worried about the virus spreading if forthcoming blockbusters like Yuvarathna also draw huge crowds.
On the other hand, stakeholders in the Kannada industry argued that targeting theatres was an unfair move. “The industry is recovering from the onslaught of the pandemic now, and going back to 50% occupancy will hit us badly. The government needs to regulate rallies and mega weddings that are still happening in the State. Vehicles coming from Maharashtra and Kerala need to be thoroughly checked,” Puneeth Rajkumar told mediapersons on Friday.
D.R. Jairaj, chairman,Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC), had a similar opinion. “All theatres are taking precautionary measures like sanitising the premises after every show and ensuring that the audience wears masks. Restrictions on occupancy will be unfair,” he said.
Incidentally, the KFCC had planned to meet with Mr. Yediyurappa on Saturday to discuss the BBMP’s recommendations. However, it decided against it after the CM took to social media to allay fears. He tweeted that no such proposal was before the government and appealed to citizens and theatre owners to follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and cooperate with the government to curb the spread of the virus.
Sources said that a section of bureaucrats tasked with fighting the spread of COVID-19 and what could well be the beginning of a second wave is unhappy with the chief minister over his unwillingness to reimpose restrictions on social gatherings.
The Technical Advisory Committee recently recommended a slew of measures, including closure of all classes apart from class 10 and 12 and restricting occupancy at theatres to 50% in six districts where the positivity rate was more than 1%. “The Chief Minister is not keen on disrupting normal life again, but what cost this will have on health of citizens is a concern,” said a senior bureaucrat.