Television industry faces renewed threat as Covid2019 cases begin to surge

Maharashtra, the main filming location, recorded 24,645 cases in the last 24 hours.

MUMBAI: Just as the television industry began limping back to normal after braving the toughest lockdown in the country’s history, a resurgence of fresh Coronavirus cases nationally – and more so with Maharashtra leading the infections – have set it on high alert once again. In the past few weeks, some production houses have been forced to halt shooting or work with lesser staff and crew amid the new surging wave of Covid2019 infections in the general population. This, despite strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) being followed at every shoot location.

There have been instances of cast and crew members contracting the novel Coronavirus. Bollywood actor Kartik Aaryan, Ranbir Kapoor, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sanam Teri Kasam director and writer Vinay Sapru, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah actor Mayur Vakani and an artist from TV show Mehndi Hai Rachne Wali and Gum Hai Kissi Ke Pyaar Mein tested positive recently.

According to the Indian Film & TV Producers Council (IFTPC) member and  TV producer Nitin Vaidya, the TV production community has done well so far as far as Covid2019 is concerned, especially considering the pace they have to produce at.  Safety protocols with adequate arrangements for checking temperature of staff members and timely sanitisation and fumigation on the sets are being followed.

IFTPC has asked producers to personally visit the sets and share pictures if Covid-2019 protocols are being followed.

“We have been through the lockdown once, and we do not want to face that situation again. So, we are trying our best to ensure that adequate protocols are followed on sets. Each of us have to be careful and we are trying to ensure that producers do not become complacent and keep shooting programmes in a safe manner,” said Vaidya.

Last week, the IFTPC wrote a letter to producers and cautioned them about a potential situation akin to "September 2020" developing again. The association urged them to avoid outdoor shoots with immediate effect. It also requested them to personally visit their sets and ensure that SOPs are implemented even more meticulously. “Fatigue and carelessness have crept into our system rather exponentially which needs to be rectified immediately," IFTPC warned.

General entertainment  broadcasters were also alerted about the sudden resurgence of cases and urged to cooperate with the production houses and not make requests for extravagant scenes. “We asked the broadcasters to depute Covid inspectors on the sets and request their creative teams not to insist on any outdoor shoots at this point or even shooting in places where there can be a crowd,” IFTPC chairman (TV division) JD Majethia told “We have fought hard for the entire year and we will continue to do the same.”

Maharashtra currently accounts for roughly 70 per cent of the total caseload of the country. Last week, state health secretary Pradeep Vyas also warned that Maharashtra’s active Covid2019 cases may reach the three lakh mark by the first week of April if the current trend of rising cases continues.

IFTPC has asked producers to personally visit the sets and share pictures if Covid-2019 protocols are being followed.

The surge in cases could pose serious trouble for the beleaguered television industry, which has just begun to show signs of revival. In its latest report, television monitoring agency Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC) had highlighted that the TV ad volume had a promising start in January and February, with a higher ad-spend than last year.

Some production houses like Contiloe Pictures, Directors Cut, Banijay, Endemol Shine India, and StudioNext have Covid2019 compliance agencies which look after the sanitisation process, disinfection, and misting of the entire set including the main floor, vanity vans, and makeup rooms. Others like Swastik Productions have a separate residential facility in Umbergaon for the cast and crew members.

There are concerns that actors and staff members who commute daily to the sets are more likely to be exposed to the Coronavirus. In its letter, IFTPC has asked the producers to restrict the crew size to 33 per cent like last year and avoid shooting scenes that require large crowds.

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government is mulling over an extended lockdown, but chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said he is counting on people to cooperate to prevent the situation from escalating. On Monday, the state witnessed a total surge of 24,645 cases in 24 hours and lost 54 lives. Roughly 3,200 of these cases were reported from Mumbai.

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