KOLKATA: The state may shortly allow restaurants and malls, shut since May 1, to resume operations after vaccinating their staff, chief minister Mamata Banerjee indicated at an interaction with businessmen at the state secretariat on Thursday.
The state government, in an order on April 30 — a day after the last phase of the eight-phase assembly elections — had prohibited them from staying open in a bid to restrict gatherings, in an effort to curb a surging second wave of the pandemic.
The operating time for standalone retail shops would also be increased by an hour in the afternoons (noon to 4pm), Banerjee indicated.
Restaurants would be allowed to operate between 5pm and 8pm, and malls at 25% of their optimal footfall. Standalone restaurants are likely to open before the end of the second fortnight of restrictions on June 15, but those in malls may start only when the facilities resume operations. A firm decision on reopening malls will be taken after June 16.
Pointing out that the restrictions were needed to curb Covid infections, Banerjee told members of various business chambers that she was also conscious of the need for businesses to resume with all necessary precautions, so that people did not lose jobs.
Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India (HRAEI) president Sudesh Poddar, who was present at the meeting, requested Banerjee to allow restaurants and bars to reopen for some hours. For malls, the request came from Credai West Bengal president Sushil Mohta. Pointing out that the hospitality sector employed more than 5.7 lakh people, Poddar said several people had lost their jobs, as many businesses were on the brink of closure because of the pandemic.
“Home delivery of food, which is currently allowed, consists of 10% to 15% of business that restaurants usually generate. It would be great if restaurants and bars could be reopened from 5pm to 9pm,” said Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India (HRAEI) president Sudesh Poddar.
Responding to the request, Banerjee said operations till 8pm would be considered but stressed that employees would have to be vaccinated first. Poddar later told TOI that vaccination was being carried out in association with the state tourism department.
Responding to requests on reopening malls, the CM had said the numbers needed to be managed and hinted at limiting footfall to a fourth of each mall’s full capacity. Mohta, who is the eastern region chairman of Shopping Centres Association of India (a non-profit organisation set up to “engage in, and encourage, the development of the shopping centre industry in India”, according to its official website), pointed out that each of the bigger malls in Kolkata employed around 5,000 people. He said crowd management wasn’t difficult as most facilities had automatic sensor-based cameras to regulate the number of people allowed in at a time. Also, he said that most malls had either already vaccinated all of their staff, or were in the process of doing so.
Leading restaurants and malls welcomed the prospect of resuming business. Debaditya Chaudhury, director of Chowman, Oudh 1590 & Chapter 2, said it would be a huge relief to the F&B industry if operations could resume soon. Aminia director Kabir Azhar and Pradip Rozario, owner of KK’s Fusion and Mio Amore, also welcomed the CM’s proposals. Mall authorities, too, expressed their happiness. Quest Mall vice-president Sanjiv Mehra and South City Mall vice-president Manmohan Bagree said it would be fantastic if the facilities were allowed to resume operations.