Coronavirus Scare Severely Impacting Business Activities in Guwahati
The Coronavirus impact has been massive. 143 countries have been affected with a total of 2,45,641 individuals testing positive, of which 1,47,140 are active cases, 88,450 recovered cases, 10,051 fatal cases (as per Microsoft Covid-19 tracker).
The total numbers of Active Covid-19 cases across India are 171, of which 19 have been discharged and 4 deaths recorded. Every state government has taken up preventive measures to contain its spread.
Although Assam has not yet recorded any positive cases of the COVID-19 virus, government authorities have taken up a number of measures to combat the same. Educational institutions, public hubs like cinema halls, swimming pools, gymnasiums, public parks, parlours and bars etc have been shut down for the rest of the month.
Further advisories are being repeatedly issued and many government and private offices have been doing cleanliness drives with washbasins and sanitizers being provided for the use of visitors.
While the public is on high alert and many have stocked up supplies in preparedness of probable shutdown of the state as a measure against the deadly virus, the financial situation of the state along with the country is gradually being impacted.
G Plus took stock of the fluctuation in the business of different sectors of the state in the light of the Covid-19 scare.
Impact on aviation and railways
A major impact has been seen in the aviation sector as people have cancelled travels, even as the government has suspended the movement of traffic to and from international destinations. Given that many states across the country have recorded positive cases, travel outside Assam has been limited to emergency and urgent needs only.
However, many people, mostly from the virus impacted states and other countries have also returned home. As such, the aviation industry is in a highly volatile state.
Airport authorities at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati said that the number of operational flights has gone down from around 140 per day to 80 per day, and footfall of daily passengers has dropped by 30%.
A scheduled GoAir flight from Aizawl to Guwahati on 17th March was cancelled due to the same reason.
On 19th March, GoAir completely shut down its international flight operations till April 15.
On 20th March Druk Airways stated that it has cancelled all its international flights from Paro and Singapore from 21st March to 29th March.
Authorities informed that such operational back out might be expected if the situation worsens but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
A passenger travelling by Spicejet from Chennai to Guwahati has informed, “The prices of tickets were at a low initially but have seen an extensive rise. The usual prices on this route range from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 6,000. But now these are being sold at Rs. 15,000.”
He further mentioned, “Rumours are going around that many airports in South India will be shut down due to the outbreak. Although the news has not yet been confirmed, people are heading back home at the earliest.”
Like Spicejet the prices of other airlines tickets have also skyrocketed.
Earlier, the Indian government had banned the operation of international flights to India for a week starting from 22nd March.
Meanwhile, the Northeast Frontier Railway has cancelled 24 low occupancy (less than 30%) trains.
The Indian Railways has removed special incentives for the senior citizens, the most vulnerable group of the population, to discourage them from undertaking non-essential journeys.
The price of platform tickets has been raised to Rs. 50.
Consumer market revenue downfall
Similar situations are being faced by the consumer market and other stakeholders.
Allegedly, Fancy Bazar, the major shopping hub of Guwahati, has seen 90 percent decline in customers.
Anirudh Siotia, a businessman from Fancy Bazar has informed that the daily revenue has also gone down by 75%. He further added, “The other dependent workers of the market like the rickshaw and cart pullers who cart the daily loads are also suffering and have started offering services at minimal prices. The wholesale market is also going at a loss.”
It has also to be mentioned that the various malls across the city also are witnessing negligible customers.
Abhijeet Thakur, Mall Manager of City Centre, Guwahati said, “The mall can currently be said to be partially open, although we might close down completely if any order or advisory is issued. The head count of daily customers is very low, about 60% low. We are also seeing a decline of Rs 6 lakhs to 7 lakhs on sales per day.”
Saurav Sharma from Times Square, Guwahati informed that while the multiplex has completely closed as per directives of the government, the shops in the mall have seen a revenue drop of 35% approximately. He further added, “Sales would have been even worse if not for the ongoing bihu sale season.”
Sandeep Khaitan, Treasurer of Federation of Industry and Commerce of North Easter Region (FINER) informed G Plus, “The industries that provide inputs to larger industries like steel have slowed down as the demand is low, even from Bhutan. They have asked not to send the materials. Also they don’t have materials to stock. The day-to-day consumption has increased as people are ‘panic-buying’. The factories like Dabur, Hindustan Lever, ITC etc. are trying to manufacture and dispatch whatever products they can. Many companies like Calvin Klein are also trying to manufacture hand sanitizers and masks as the demand is high, but the government has not granted them permission. Further, as it is the month of March, many government transactions are done. But there is a lot of disruption in government activities and people are not sure supplies and payments will be made. Going ahead, if this continues, it might be difficult to continue and there might be layoffs.”
Anuj Kumar Baruah, President of All Assam Small Scale Industries Association said, “Sales have gone down drastically by 50 percent, and going by the trend there is every possible chance that it would slow down further.”
He said that the economy was already slowing down and given the Coronavirus effect, it has hit the market immensely.”
Himanta Biswa Sarma, in a press conference held on 20th March, said that shopping malls across the state would be given advisories as to how many customers can be hosted at a given point of time as per their respective sizes.
Further every shop in and outside the shopping malls are advised only to let 50 people including the staff at a given point. The number may vary as per the size of the shop and directives would soon be issued.
While bars have shut operations, restaurants see lesser customers
The National Restaurants Association of India issued an advisory to shut down operation of restaurants from 18th to 31st March to combat the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the advisory, restaurant operations in the city continue.
Speaking to G Plus on the issue, many restaurant owners have informed that there is a 30 to 35 percent decline in the headcount of customers on weekdays. Having said that one of the owners informed, “The weekend crowd is usually significantly high, whereas, there is often a slowdown in weekday business. Last week we didn’t see any change in the crowd but we are expecting a substantially low turnout over the coming weekend.”
Vinay Chamaria, owner of Piazza said, “We have limited services to only our regular customers and for those who have made two to three days’ prior reservations. But walk-in customers are not being catered to in order to protect our regular people.”
Talking about the NRAI advisory he further said, “Food is an essential commodity. So it is not relevant that restaurants should be shut down.”
However, many other restaurant proprietors have said that they are prepared to shut down operations if the municipality notifies on the same.
It has to be mentioned that most restaurants have taken preventive measures by providing sanitizers for customers and staffs, masks for every staff and immediate leave for those infected even with common flu or other regular health issues.
However, the government of Assam has directed all 'Bars and Pubs’ in Guwahati to remain closed till 31st March.
A notification issued from EXCOM, Assam on 18th March states, "All IMFL ‘ON’ shops to remain closed up to 31st March, 2020 with immediate effect and until further orders.”