Omicron dampens festive spirit, worries hospitality sector

News Network
December 24, 2021

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‘Tis indeed the season to be jolly but the emergence of a new Covid variant and reimposed restrictions in some places just when things were looking up has the hospitality sector– and party-goers hoping to make the most of Christmas and year-end festivities – worried yet again.

Though Christmas lights are up in several cities, the feeling of déjà vu, of another year-end of lengthening Covid shadows – this time of the Omicron variant – has dampened the Yuletide spirit. And while many restaurants and hotels are going ahead with their Christmas and New Year plans, it’s all edged with uncertainty and dread that another wave might be just around the corner.

The party may not go on. But nobody can be sure. Be it Delhi or Mumbai, Kolkata or Bengaluru, optimism for a happy and healthy end to the year clashes with the stress of not really knowing what lies ahead. The mantra, as an industry insider put it, is cautiously optimistic

In the national capital, where the Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Wednesday directed district magistrates to ensure no Christmas and New Year gathering takes place in view of the rising Omicron cases, restaurateurs sought more clarity.

The DDMA order, they said, permits bars and restaurants to operate with up to 50 per cent of seating capacity without specifying whether they can host Christmas and New Year parties.

"Whether we can organise a party or not is a grey area. We hope the government will issue a clarification before December 31," Joy Singh, co-partner of Raasta and Yeti, said.

He said they are opting to be cautious and organise only sit-down lunches and dinners.

A restaurant owner in Khan Market, the buzzing shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city, said this is their turnaround moment but it may not happen.

"We were hoping the (DDMA) order would bring some relief but we will have to settle for 50 per cent of the crowd. Ever since the pandemic, we have been facing issues with lockdown and then the curbs… We understand there is the Omicron threat, but other areas are fully functional, so why to target our industry?"

Sahil Sambhi of the Drunken Botanist, a bar-eatery in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub abutting Delhi, is equally despairing.

“…This is the most rewarding time for the F&B industry. That said, we will abide by the 50 per cent rule strictly and will follow all Covid protocols to the tee. We had planned a few events on the occasion, but I am afraid we have to cancel those now amid the fresh curbs imposed by the state government,” the director of Drunken Botanist said.

Given the escalating number of cases and the fear of another wave, the industry is battling tremendous odds anyway.

According to a survey by English news app Inshorts,  about 63 per cent of Delhi residents said they will "stay at home" while 29 per cent said they would like to be part of "small get-togethers". Of the 15,000 people surveyed, four per cent said they would like to dine out or travel on the occasion.

In Karnataka, the state government has said there will no deejays, no parties from December 31 to January 2. And the 50 per cent cap on occupancy also stands. To add to it, some groups have announced a shutdown on New Year’s Eve to press for a ban on the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, which recently allegedly defaced the statue of 19th-century warrior Sangolli Rayanna, in Belagavi.

Chetan Hegde, the owner of 1522- The Pub in the state capital Bengaluru, said business has dipped by 30 to 40 per cent in the last two years.

"We were expecting a good business this year but again the Omicron has surfaced. We are bound by all the restrictions," Hegde said.

"We had sold our tickets online in good numbers but the restrictions came in the last minute,” added Hitesh Tulsani, operations manager of the Raahi Neo Kitchen and Bar in the city.

Tracking the falling numbers during peak season for the business, he said there was a crowd of about 500 people in his restaurant on December 31, 2019. This plunged to only 30 last year. And this year looks dismal too.

The mood is distinctly downcast in Tamil Nadu as well.

Residency Group COO Gopinath B said they are waiting for official communication from the government.

If there is a ban, celebrations will be subdued; if not, New Year’s Eve will be a big celebration, complete with deejays.       

"Covid will not only affect the hospitality industry but also other kinds of industries… We want to be very careful instead of slipping into another mess," he said.

The mood is optimistic but the uncertainty is palpable in Mumbai as well.

"Currently, we are witnessing positive consumer sentiment following pent up demand," said Nikhil Sharma, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Regional Director - Eurasia.

The company's Ramada Plaza Juhu property has been getting over 55 per cent footfalls for the Christmas and New Year period, and these bookings are expected to rise further for this period.
"Mumbai, as a destination, sees last-minute bookings by locals during this period, and we remain cautiously optimistic," Sharma added.

“Business has been encouraging in the last two months and the sentiment for the festive season is very positive,” said Ravi Ramachandran, general manager, Radisson Mumbai, Andheri MIDC.

But the situation could change. At the moment, due to reports on rising Omicron cases in Maharashtra, bookings for New Year celebrations a week away are low and the outlook is not as promising as it seemed at the beginning of the month.

In Kolkata, famous for its year-end festive vibe, the mood is optimistic.

According to Sudesh Poddar, president of the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Eastern India, the threat of Omicron has so far not impacted the hospitality industry in the city and in other parts of West Bengal. "All our restaurants are recording good turnout which is only increasing in the run-up to Christmas. Restaurants will be open till 1 am from December 24 to January 1 and those serving liquor beyond that if permitted by the Excise department,” Poddar, who also runs Songhai and Manthan, said.

Nitin Kothari, the owner of Peter Cat and Mocambo, said the popular eateries have been seeing full houses for the last week. "We have been maintaining all Covid protocols since the restaurants opened after the lockdown. There has been no laxity… we are adhering to the 70 per cent occupancy limit as stipulated by the state."

India recorded 122 cases of the Omicron variant, the highest so far, pushing its tally in the country to 358, according to Union Health Ministry data on Friday. Of these, 114 have either recovered or migrated.

India recorded 6,650 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally of cases to 3,47,72,626.

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News Network
July 30,2022

Bengaluru, July 30: An Ethiopian national with symptoms of monkeypox has been quarantined at a private hospital here, the Karnataka health department said.

His samples have been sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for confirmation, the health officials said on Saturday. The African national has been isolated at the hospital where he got admitted for treatment of multiple health issues, including renal problem.

“The 55-year-old Ethiopian with kidney-related ailment and other health complications had come in the first week of July and only recently, he showed signs of monkeypox with rashes in his body,” a health department official said.

Health Minister K Sudhakar told reporters that there was no need for people to panic as it is not a deadly disease. “There is no need to panic over monkeypox. Of course, we need to take some precautionary measures. Even if it comes, there is treatment available for it. It does not lead to death. Death is highly unlikely,” Sudhakar, who himself is a medical professional, said. He said the disease belongs to the smallpox family. Those who have taken vaccines will not show major symptoms. 

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News Network
August 7,2022

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Gaza Strip, Aug 7: The latest bout of airstrikes by the Israeli regime in the north and the south of the besieged Gaza Strip has claimed the lives of eight Palestinian children, and the second senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance movement.

In a statement on Sunday, Islamic Jihad confirmed that Khaled Mansour, its commander in the south of the Gaza Strip, had been killed in an Israeli raid on Saturday.

Mansour is the second high-ranking member of Islamic Jihad to be killed since Israel carried out airstrikes on Gaza on Friday when it assassinated Tayseer al-Jabari, a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad movement in the north.

Moreover, several children have been killed in the Gaza Strip as Israeli jets bombed the besieged enclave for a second day.

At least six children were killed in a blast in a residential area near the Jabaliya refugee camp north of the Gaza Strip on Saturday bringing the tally of children killed since Friday to eight. Among them are two brothers aged five and 11 in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Medical sources in Gaza identified the two brothers killed in the Israeli assault as Moamen Al-Nayrab and Ahmed Al-Nayrab, with the Palestinian Health Ministry saying the regime’s brutal raid had since Friday left at least 34 people dead and 215 wounded.

"I can't even put to words what I have just witnessed, I'm still shaking," Ahamd Arafah, an eyewitness, said as he recounted the horrific scenes in an interview with the Middle East Eye.

"We were watching the news like everyone, then we heard screaming and went outside. I saw frightening scenes. Blood-covered children, body parts all over the street, people running around confused. It was literally a massacre. There are no other words to describe it. I'm still in shock at what I saw. They were just children. What is their crime?"

Tensions have soared across the coastal enclave and the occupied territories since Friday, when the Israeli regime carried out a massacre against the Gaza Strip, killing scores of people and hitting a series of what it said were military targets.

Palestinian authorities said that 650 housing units have been damaged in the first 24 hours of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which has targeted several residential towers.

Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza before it struck on Friday, crippling the territory's lone power plant and reducing electricity to around eight hours per day, and drawing warnings from health officials that hospitals would be severely impacted within days.

In response to the brutal Israeli airstrikes, Palestinian resistance forces fired more than 400 rockets at Israel, setting off air raid sirens and sending settlers running to bomb shelters.

The Islamic Jihad called the retaliatory barrage only an “initial response” to the Israeli bloodbath, with the Palestinian resistance movement's Secretary General Ziad al-Nakhalah saying the Israeli enemy must expect a "non-stop" confrontation in the wake of the aggression.

According to a report by Reuters Egypt said it was engaged in intensive talks to calm the situation.

An Egyptian intelligence delegation headed by Major General Ahmed Abdelkhaliq arrived in Israel on Saturday and would be traveling to Gaza for mediation talks, hoping to secure a day's ceasefire in order to carry out the talks, the report citing unnamed Egyptian security sources added.

Israel said on Saturday it is preparing for its aerial operation in Gaza to last a week, saying there are currently no discussions on a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad. The military “is preparing for the operation to last week" and is "not currently holding ceasefire negotiations,” it said.

Last May, Gaza’s resistance groups fired around 4,000 rockets during the 11-day Operation Sword of al-Quds after the Israeli regime initiated the war, which marked the fourth wholesale military campaign by the occupying regime against the densely-populated Palestinian enclave.

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News Network
August 5,2022

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Bengaluru, Aug 5: A Bengaluru woman allegedly threw her four-year-old mentally challenged daughter from the fourth floor of a building as she was hampering her career, the police said on Friday. The accused is a dentist by profession. 

The incident took place in the Sampangiramanagar area of Bengaluru. The accused tried to die by suicide after throwing her daughter but was rescued by neighbours.

Her husband Kiran lodged a complaint against the accused identified as Dr Sushma. They were a resident of the Advaith Ashraya apartment in CKC Garden.

CCTV footage also showed the woman throwing her daughter down.

Sushma had once tried to abandon her daughter at a railway station. Upon learning about it, Kiran immediately rushed to the station and found their daughter, the police said.

Police said that the woman was depressed over the fact that her daughter was mentally challenged and so she threw the girl to death. Further investigation is on. 

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