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
February 17,2024

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Kasaragod: In a suspected case of murder-suicide, three persons of a family were found dead in their rented house behind Kanhangad Railway Station on Saturday, February 17.

Hosdurg police identified the deceased as Suryaprakash (55), his wife Geetha (48), and his mother Leela (90).The women were found dead in the bedroom and Suryaprakash in the kitchen. 

Police found in the house a suicide note, purportedly written by Suryaprakash, a watchmaker who was running 'Scientific Watch Works' at the old bus stand in Kanhangad town. The suicide note mentions financial liabilities on the family.

The details have to be investigated, said an officer at Hosdurg Station. Suryaprakash allegedly gave poison to his mother and wife before he hanged himself.

Suryaprakash and Geetha are survived by three children, Aishwarya, Arya, and Ajay. "The daughters are married and Ajay is working in a private company in Ernakulam," said Kanhangad councillor from Avikkara A V Lakshmi, who had known the family for decades. 

The wife's house is in Avikkara and Suryaprakash was from the South, she said. "They have been living in Avikkara for at least 30 years," said Lakshmi.

According to police, Suryaprakash phoned his son Ajay Saturday morning and reportedly told him "Mother and grandmother have gone. I am also going".

Ajay immediately called a friend and asked him to rush to his house. By the time he reached the house, all three were gone. 

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News Network
February 14,2024

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New Delhi: An Indian-origin family from Kerala was found dead at their home in US' California in an apparent case of murder-suicide. The family have been identified as Anand Sujith Henry, 42, his wife Alice Priyanka, 40, and their 4-year-old twin children Noah and Neithan.

Cops found the bodies after one of the family's relatives sought a welfare check as nobody in the house was attending the call.

The Indian-American couple, Anand and Alice, were found dead with gunshot wounds inside a bathroom. The twin children were discovered dead in a bedroom, with the cause of their death still under investigation.

"After arriving officers were met with no response, they searched the perimeter of the home and did not see any signs of forced entry into the house. Finding an unlocked window, officers entered the home and located four people dead; 1 adult male, 1 adult female, and two children," police said.

A 9mm pistol and a loaded magazine were recovered from the bathroom.

The couple had purchased the house in 2020 for $2.1 million, records show.

An initial assessment by the police suggests a possible murder-suicide scenario, though they have not ruled out other possibilities.

"Based on the information we have at this time, this appears to be an isolated incident with no danger to the public as we are confident the person responsible was located within the home," the San Mateo police department said in a statement.

The family, originally from Kerala, had been living in the United States for the past nine years. Anand, a software engineer, and Alice, a senior analyst, had relocated from New Jersey to San Mateo County two years ago. Described as friendly, hardworking, and devoted parents, the couple was well-liked by both neighbors and colleagues.

According to court records, Anand had filed for divorce in December 2016, but the separation did not go through in court.

San Mateo County's Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) has taken over the case, working alongside the San Mateo County Crime Lab to collect evidence. The bodies have been taken into the custody of the San Mateo County Coroner, who is working to positively identify each individual and notify next of kin.

The case bears an eerie resemblance to a recent case where a wealthy Indian-origin couple and their teenage daughter were found dead in their $5 million mansion in Massachusetts.

In the last month, at least seven Indian-origin people have been found dead in the US. US envoy to India Eric Garcetti reassured that the US is committed to making sure it remains a safe destination for Indian students.

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News Network
February 18,2024

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Kamal Nath, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress strongman, is mulling a switch to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the party's leadership denied him a Rajya Sabha ticket, India Today TV reported citing sources aware of the matter. 

"Kamal Nath is likely to switch to the BJP and the Congress leadership has made no attempts to reach out to him. Things have come to a knot with Kamal Nath actively lobbying for a Rajya Sabha ticket," sources aware of the matter said.

They claimed that Kamal Nath even met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge for a Rajya Sabha nomination. "The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister even hosted MLAs to endorse his nomination, but the leadership refused to blink," they added. 

Congress blames Kamal Nath for fall of MP govt

The sources, however, added that the party "bent backwards to please" Nath. They also blamed Kamal Nath and his "adamance" for the fall of the Madhya Pradesh government. These sources added Nath refused to cooperate with anyone sent from Delhi. 

"Senior leader JP Agarwal was shunted out because he (Kamal Nath) didn't want him as the in-charge and refused to corporate with him. Randeep Surjewala was given the assignment later, but Kamal Nath continued to have a one-way traffic as far as ticket distribution and campaigning in Assembly elections were concerned," the sources said. 

There were reports suggesting that Kamal Nath, along with his son Nakul Nath and other MPs may switch over to the BJP.

Kamal Nath on joining BJP

The speculations peaked when the former Madhya Pradesh CM arrived in Delhi on Saturday. While speaking to reporters, Nath said if there was any such thing, he would inform the media first.

"It is not about denying, you are saying this, you people are getting excited. I am not getting excited, this side or that side, but if there would be any such thing, I would inform you first," Nath said. 

Kamal Nath's close aide spills the beans

Kamala Nath's close aide Sajjan Singh Verma said: "Three things work in politics- respect, insult and self-respect, when these are hurt a person changes his decisions... When such a top politician who has done a lot for Congress and the nation in the last 45 years, thinks of moving away from the party, then all three factors work behind it. No decision has been taken that Kamal Nath ji is going, right there is just speculation..."

MP Congress on Kamal Nath-BJP reports

The Madhya Pradesh Congress on Saturday refuted rumors of party veteran Kamal Nath and his son, MP Nakul Nath, defecting to BJP. PCC president Jitu Patwari, during a press conference, dismissed the news about former CM Kamal Nath as baseless.

He emphasized the long-standing relationship between the Nath family and the Nehru-Gandhi family, dating back to the 1970s. Patwari recounted Nath's 45-year political journey, highlighting his seven-year tenure as Congress president in Madhya Pradesh and his steadfast support for the party.  

"In his political career of 45 years, he spent the last seven years as president of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh," Patwari said. "He stood shoulder to shoulder with all of us Congress workers and stood firmly for the party in every situation.  By imbibing the ideas of the people, he led us to perform our duties fearlessly while playing the role of the opposition," he said.

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