India will allow 100% occupancy in cinemas from Feb. 1, the country’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced on Saturday. Cinemas began reopening in October 2020 with 50% occupancy.

“Seating arrangement inside the auditorium of the cinemas/theatres/multiplexes is to be allowed upto 100% seating capacity,” read a statement from the Ministry.

Exhibition of films, however, will not be allowed in places designated as COVID-19 containment zones.

The ministry has also released a list of standard operating procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which visitors and cinema workers are required to adhere to at all times.

Within cinemas, physical distancing of at least six feet is required outside the auditoriums, common areas and waiting areas at all times, and the use of face covers/masks are mandatory. Spitting is strictly prohibited and the use of the ‘arogya setu,’ the government’s track and trace app, is advised.

Thermal screening of visitors and staff will be carried out at entry points and only asymptomatic individuals shall be allowed to enter. Designated queue markers are required to be made available for entry and exit of the audience from the auditorium and the premises, and the exits need to be in a staggered row-wise manner to avoid crowding. Show timings will be staggered.

Frequent sanitization of the entire premises, common facilities, and all points which come into human contact, like handles and railings should be ensured, and the cinemas must be sanitized after every screening.

The temperature in the cinemas is to be maintained between 24-30°C, and the relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70%. Air recirculation should be avoided to the maximum extent possible, with provision to be made for cross-ventilation and intake of fresh air.

Online or mobile phone booking is encouraged for tickets and concessions. In general, hand sanitizers are required to be made available everywhere.

Meanwhile, India’s total active coronavirus caseload has dropped to 169,824, as of Jan. 30, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and vaccination is continuing apace. “India is the fastest country to reach not only the one million target but also two million and three million marks in COVID-19 vaccination,” a statement from the ministry said on Saturday. “Several other countries which have had a head start, some as much as 40-50 days, have taken a longer time to reach these targets.”

India’s leading multiplexes have welcomed the move.

“This is welcome news finally which would give a much needed boost to the multiplex industry. We thank the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Home Affairs for their decision on allowing 100% seating capacity at the cinemas,” Gautam Dutta, CEO of the PVR chain, told Variety. “India has done well to control the COVID-19 spread along with the large scale roll out of the vaccination. This move would give confidence to the producers to release their much awaited films and (for) audiences to return to the cinemas to watch their choicest movies in the company of their loved ones. PVR continues to keep safety and hygiene as paramount and (will) abide by all SOPs as laid by the government.”

“For the revival of the cinema exhibition industry, relaxation of the seating norms was a vital prerequisite. We are thankful to the I&B Ministry and absolutely excited about the revised guidelines allowing 100% seating in cinemas,” Alok Tandon, CEO of the Inox chain, told Variety. “This would ease the apprehensions in the minds of content producers and studios, who may now announce the release dates of their movies. We now look forward to the state governments to provide us the nod to implement the revised guidelines.”

The increased capacity will come as a relief to stakeholders as several big ticket films including “83,” starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, “Sooryavanshi,” starring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Singh, and “Radhe,” starring Salman Khan have been ready for months and are awaiting release.

Khan had reassured exhibitors that he would hold back “Radhe” for a theatrical release, unlike several marquee films in 2020 that went direct to streaming.

Following the announcement, Tamil-language “Karnan,” starring Dhanush, which was holding out for a theatrical release, announced that it is set to bow in April.

“Master,” starring Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi, released in cinemas with 50% permitted occupancy over the Pongal holiday frame and collected $33 million. It began streaming on Amazon Prime Video from Jan. 29.