The state’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray warned of a possible lockdown, but said he will discuss the situation with experts to find an alternative.
“I am not announcing the lockdown but warning about it. If there is no alternative found to the lockdown in the next two days, we will have to take a decision,” a news report in the Hindustan Times quoted Thackeray as saying. Thackeray made a virtual address as the state saw its highest-ever single-day spike in covid-19 cases on Thursday. “I will discuss with experts from various fields in the next two days to find out alternatives to the lockdown,” Thackeray said.
Meanwhile, the Pune divisional commissioner on Friday directed bars, hotels and restaurants to remain closed for seven days. Only home delivery will be allowed. Religious places will also be completely closed for the next seven days.
Maharashtra reported a record 47,827 infections in 24 hours on Friday. The state’s capital, Mumbai, reported a record 8,832 new cases of coronavirus.
Fresh restrictions are bound to impact local businesses in the state.
Trade bodies, including those representing multiplexes, hotels, restaurants and shopping centres, have been urging the state government to lift curfews and restrictions on consumer-focused businesses. More curbs will derail a recovery, they said.
Last month, Maharashtra imposed a night curfew and restrictions on gathering of five or more people between 8pm and 7am effective midnight 27 March. Cinema halls, malls, auditoriums and restaurants will remain closed from 8pm to 7am, it said then.
The CEO of a large retail chain said that the new restrictions have brought the brick-and-mortar retail momentum to a grinding halt. Malls in certain large pockets in western India have been the worst hit, he said. “We hope that the authorities will take a view to allow malls to operate,” he said, declining to be named.
Restrictions in Pune on restaurants are set to have “massive repercussions”, said Pranav Rungta, Mumbai chapter head of the National Restaurant Association of India.
Analysts said fresh restrictions and a surge in new cases are a big negative for sectors such as dine-in and entertainment.
“It will be a sentiment dampener for consumers. However, the lockdown won’t be so severe as last year. The easing-off will also happen much faster,” said Karan Taurani, an analyst at Elara Capital Ltd. Taurani expects the latest round of restrictions to last 6-8 weeks.
Neighbouring Karnataka also laid out some restrictions on Friday. The state capped capacity in pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants in the districts of Bengaluru Urban and Rural, Mysuru, Kalburgi, Dakshin Kannada, Udupi, Bidar and Hubballi-Dharwad to 50%. In shopping malls, closed markets and departmental stores, the state has sought strict enforcement of covid-appropriate behaviour and encouraged the practice of work from home as far as possible.
Mumbai, which contributes 40-45% of overall box office revenues of Hindi films, along with Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, has also witnessed a spike in covid-19 cases recently.
The latest curbs will put in jeopardy the fate of films scheduled for theatrical release in April, including biographical drama Thalaivi and action thriller Sooryavanshi. Recent movies such as crime drama Mumbai Saga and Hollywood flick Godzilla vs Kong fared much below potential because of the curbs in some states.
Movie business in south India has been much more robust.
“The multiplex industry has only recently seen positive consumer sentiment building in the last few weeks. This is being eroded rapidly with night curfews and lockdowns in certain areas. During the last few months of multiplex operations, no cases of infection have been detected inside the premises due to strict implementation of safety measures,” said Devang Sampat, CEO at Cinepolis India.
“We strongly urge the authorities to let cinemas operate as per regular business hours, in order to protect the livelihoods of over 200,000 people employed in the sector,” he added.