CHENNAI: The Tamil Nadu government's decision allowing 100 percent seating in theatres in the state has met with criticism from various quarters.
The move to allow 100 percent seating came after actor Vijay, whose movie Master is releasing on Pongal, met Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. Silambarasan’s movie Eswaran is also releasing at the same time.
However, voices against the move are growing stronger with many citizens on social media raising concerns, while the medical fraternity too is of the opinion that it is not a wise decision.
Aravinth Srinivas, a resident doctor from JIPMER (Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research), wrote in a Facebook post that it was ‘suicidal’ to permit hundred percent occupancy in theatres. “The pandemic isn’t over and we have people dying to the disease,” he wrote.
The post went viral on various social media platforms with many netizens endorsing it. “I am tired. We are all tired. Thousands of doctors like me are tired. Health care workers are tired. Police officials are tired. Sanitary workers are tired,” the resident doctor wrote.
“We don’t have cameras in front of us. We don’t do stunt sequences. We aren’t heroes. But we deserve some time to breathe,” the doctor added. He said that none of the policymakers or actors were going to put their life at risk watching movies in the crowd and it only puts the public at risk.
Experts have said that since theatres have a closed setting with no social distancing, people are highly exposed to the virus during a three-hour movie.
Virologist Dr Jacob John said the move to allow hundred percent occupancy is premature. “The infection rate is coming down and we must let it come down fully. We must not help the virus to spread,” he said.
Dr John said that there may of course be pressure from the industry but it is not advisable for the government to budge. “At this time, it is wise to allow just one third of the seating,” he said.
Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, Deputy Director, Indian Council of Medical Research–National Institute of Epidemiology, tweeted that closed spaces without social distancing are a perfect setting for explosive spread of COVID-19. “I request the public to avoid such settings,” she said.
In the cine industry, one of the lone personalities to come out against the move was actor Arvind Swami. “There are times when 50% is way better than a 100%. This is one of them,” he tweeted.
In view of this, on Tuesday, Health Secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan said it was the Revenue Department which issued the government order and he would take up the issue with them.
He said that the health department would also consult the expert panel members and the issue will be discussed separately.
However, on the other hand, some experts said restrictions may no longer be a viable option keeping the economy in mind.
Former Director of Public Health Dr K Kolandasamy said theatres must strictly enforce COVID standard operating procedures. “Mask wearing and sanitation must be compulsory. Keeping the air change rate in ACs per hour at the maximum is also required, he said.
He added that if possible, theatres could keep the doors and ventilators open.
Dr Subramanian Swaminathan, infectious diseases specialist at Gleneagles Global Health City, said theatres opening up with hundred percent capacity may lead to localized clusters but a large scale spread looks far-fetched, given that many have been exposed to the virus already.
“Earlier, we did not permit this because the fallout would have been very high. Now, the number of cases has gone down and we are nearing herd immunity. So, we need to slowly start moving forward,” he said, pointing out that COVID norms must be enforced in theatres.