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Reopening Safely

Kolkatans win over Covid fear, bring malls and restaurants back to life

Many people who had contracted the virus but recovered quickly have started to step out and reviving shelved travel plans

Debraj Mitra | Published 24.01.22, 07:51 AM
Visitors to the Maidan on Sunday.

Visitors to the Maidan on Sunday.

Gautam Bose

The perception that the Omicron-driven third wave of Covid is on the wane and the strain is milder compared to its predecessors is gradually drawing people out of their homes. 

The familiar stirrings are visible at malls and restaurants in Kolkata and pending travel plans are being revived.

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In the first week of January, when the new curbs were announced, the sheer volume of the new Covid cases had instilled a sense of deep fear in the minds of people, who were reluctant to step out unless absolutely necessary.

But three weeks into the curbs, things are changing. Many Kolkatans, who had contracted the virus but recovered quickly, have also started to step out.

Sayan Sarkar and wife Somadrita celebrated their wedding anniversary at a restaurant on Hazra Road on Friday.

The couple had returned from a north Bengal trip with a group of friends on December 29. Somadrita tested positive in the first week of January. The couple have a three-year-old son and aged parents and in-laws.

“This was our first outing in two weeks. We had initially thought of ordering food home but then decided to eat out,” said Sarkar, who works with an American investment bank.

“The strain seems milder and my parents have just had their booster dose. So, we are not feeling unsafe,” he said.

Restaurateurs said the footfall was picking up gradually.

“Things are definitely better than they were in the first week of January. The weekends are almost full. The weekdays are not as deserted as they were,” said Anand Puri, owner of Trinca’s on Park Street.

“Another week or two may be required for things to start moving smoothly again. We expect some policy changes around the curbs in the coming days. That should provide more impetus to growth,” he said.

Many Kolkatans who had shelved travel plans because of the third wave are planning to go ahead in the coming days.

A businessman who lives in Gariahat had planned a Darjeeling trip with family and friends. He had booked tickets for January 3.

“The third wave just started and the rapid rise in the number of daily infections got us worried. We cancelled the tickets. Now that the graph is declining rapidly, we have again decided to go,” he said.

The group has decided to fly out on January 29.

Some of the members contracted the virus earlier this month. “They have recovered quickly and are good to go now,” the man added.

Travel operators said queries had started pouring again.

“From north Bengal to north India, there had been many cancellations in group bookings at the start of the year. For the past few days, I have started receiving several queries for Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh,” said Raktim Roy, managing partner of Dolphin Travels.

“The demand for north Bengal is yet to pick up because the forests are still closed.”

Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India, said people who had postponed international travel plans were showing interest again.

“There are several queries about the US and the UK. The pending visa applications are moving again,” he said.

Laghima Bhattacharya, 64, had gone to South City Mall on Saturday to buy a gift for her grand-daughter, who would turn five next week.

“The parking space was not full but far from empty. There were several other customers in the store I bought the gift from,” she said.

The gloomy weather dented the footfall on Sunday but Saturday saw over 20,000 people turn up at the mall. January 8 had seen less than 12,000, an official of the mall said.

“There has been a 50 per cent rise in footfall in the third week of January compared to the first week,” said the official.

Quest, Acropolis and Forum malls have also been witnessing a gradual rise in footfall.

“Things have definitely improved. Now, we expect the government to send a message that life is returning to normalcy and there is no need to panic,” said an official of Quest.

Last updated on 24.01.22, 07:51 AM
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