Guwahati: At a time when the "lockdown" has been chosen as the country's prime mechanism of defense against the novel coronavirus, the eateries in Guwahati city seem to be incurring extensive damage due to a relatively newer phenomenon called the "weekend lockdown."
Even as the country sought to prepare itself for the tough challenge ahead, a strict "total lockdown" phase was announced by the country's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an address to the nation on March 24. Immediately afterward, 1.3 billion Indians were left scurrying homewards out of fear for the Wuhan-originating pathogen. Although the scientific efficacy of the lockdown is as of yet unproven, the Centre has hailed it as an effective tool to contain the rapid spread of the contagion.
In Assam's Guwahati city, the state government imposed a complete lockdown on June 28 after the "unlocking" of the city reportedly led to a massive boom in cases. On the same date, a "weekend lockdown" was also announced. This lockdown, the state's health and finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma said, would continue for an indefinite period of time until the corona threat is completely thwarted.
Now, after the staggered re-opening of the city amid mounting pressure from several sections of society, the weekend lockdown still looms large.
Arguably, nobody has been more impacted by this than the restaurant owners in Guwahati that has slowly gained a reputation for having a host of food joints with several options for different taste buds.
Usually, on the weekend evenings, these joints would be choc-a-block with people out for a soirée. However, the advent of the coronavirus has put a halt to this emerging culture in Assam's largest city that is known for its confluence of myriad cultures and appetites.
The restaurant business in the city, needless to say, has suffered endlessly. By several accounts, many of these eateries have shut shop for good. And the restaurant owners are none too happy about it.
"We are getting about 50℅ online sales. However, customer movement has reduced dramatically. Since college and the high court account for a bulk of our customers, we expect the sales to rise to around 70℅ of the usual occupancy when these reopen", Mridul Choudhury, the owner of the 4 Seasons restaurant told The Sentinel Digital.
Choudhury, at the same time, urged the Government to provide some relaxations to the restaurants as far as timings and weekend lockdowns are concerned. "We are heavily dependent on weekend sales for our profit. Lifting of this would be a boon and a reprieve for many of us as we often look forward to the weekends. Since the bars also have been allowed to re-open, a good argument can be made for abolishing the weekend lockdown system altogether. Additionally, they (the Government) should allow us to keep our establishments open until at least 8 pm."
Bristi Chutia, an employee at Michinga, an ethnic food hub in the city, complains that the recent spate of lockdowns has badly affected the restaurant's business. "We are incurring massive losses -- to the tune of 90%. Footfall has reduced dramatically. Say, if earlier 10 people used to come to us for food, that number has now reduced to one. That is how bad things are. The worst part of it is that a lot of food has been wasted already."
Manoram Gogoi, the owner of Tholgiri, one of the most popular haunts in the city in the pre-lockdown times, complains that the Government's new directives are not "beneficial" to anyone. "This (the weekend lockdown) is a meaningless decision. If they do indeed want to unlock, all stakeholders should benefit from it. The current timings are from 10-5, which are official timings. Furthermore, there is no public transportation. They should have allowed people to do their shopping till 7 pm in the evening, otherwise, there is no point."
Gogoi also warned that this ongoing trend of lockdown could cause irreparable damage to the city's restaurant businesses. "From what I have heard, 60-70% of the restaurants have been closed down permanently. A lot many lives and livelihoods are connected to this budding industry. The owners who do not have deep enough pockets shall not be able to come back from this lockdown catastrophe, I fear."