COVID-19 HAS KILLED TRADE, MEDIA!

FEAR: The unwarranted rumour that Covid-19 virus is spreading through newspapers or their delivery boys has further affected the media business which is already struggling due to an acute shortage of popular advertising

By Rajan Naryaan

The worst hit by Covid-19 are the small and medium businesses like trading companies, including media companies like the Goan Observer. It is the small businesses which are finding the slump hurtful and they are not even able to cover high rents of premises and staff wages. Not surprisingly, literally hundreds of traders are surrendering their licenses to civic bodies and panchayats. Even though hotels restaurants and bars have been permitted to resume operations the Covid-19 requirement of physical distance makes everything unviable to run and cover costs. Contrary to the claim of Central and the State government neither the banks nor the government are extending support to small businesses. With lakhs of employees out of jobs even in Goa there is no business to sustain the trading community. It is a vicious cycle in which with consumers with fewer resources are unable to support small businesses.

NORMALLY when the Goa tourism season approaches there is a rush for licenses to set up new shops. September to February is the peak tourism season in Goa with the approach road to every beach big or small is crammed with small shops and stalls retailing a variety of handicrafts, sarongs for the beach, artificial jewellery, Kashmiri artefacts of walnut wood and silk and woollen garments, stoles, scarves, etc.
But this year though the charters are yet to commence in a few days there is no sign of any commercial activity. Covid-19 is bad enough with the mortality rate increasing by the day and patients being turned away from government hospitals for lack of beds. The situation is worse by a prolonged monsoon stretching into four months. We do not know if there is any connection as it appears that it is raining Covid-19.
A section of the press has reported that traders in various parts of Goa are returning their licenses to Municipalities and the Panchayats. The Commissioner of the Corporation of the City of Panaji Sanjit Rodrigues has admitted that more than a hundred trade licenses have been surrendered. It is a similar case in commercial capital of Goa, Margao, where small establishments, shops and eateries are returning their operation licence.
In every Municipality in the State with the solitary exception ironically of Pernem, there has been a sharp drop in commercial and trading activity. Perhaps the only exception being the drug-laced rave parties in Pernem taluka which includes popular beaches of Morjim, Arambol and Mandrem.
When the traders were asked why they were giving up their licenses the universal answer was that there was no business. Imagine a small shop selling mobiles or even textiles. Many of this small shops operate from rented premises. They are viable only if there are enough customers and sales. But Covid-19 has created mass unemployment and there are no buyers anxious to shop generously.
It is a vicious circle. Primarily caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and in the subsequent sharp fall in business a lot of businessmen have been forced to down shutters. Those businesses still active have to observe the State imposed Covid-19 rules. If you are running a textile showroom or a mini supermarket or even a mall you may not entertain as many customers as you would in normal times to do fair business and reap profits. If you have to ensure that a one meter distance has to be maintained between customers you can only attract a limited number of shoppers. Worst still you can employ only a limited number of sales persons.
A typical example of one of the worst affected business is hotels and restaurants. In theory the Central and State governments have permitted hotels and restaurants to resume operating their business. The handicap of having to run a restaurant without a bar has also been removed now. Earlier even though restaurants opened the bars attached to them were not permitted to serve liquor.

RETURNED: Hundreds of petty traders and small restaurants have been forced to shut down as it is not viable for them to operate at 50% of their capacity to ensure there is a sufficient physical distance between customers.


NO FUN IN SPORTS MATCHES

HOWEVER, with the IPL having commenced in the Gulf and MS Dhoni back in the field playing for Chennai Superkings who won the first match of the tournament, one would have expected bars and restaurants to be full and overflowing with brisk business. This is not only because bars and restaurants put up big screens so that viewers who drop in can watch the action on the field more clearly. In fact, the only way to catch the IPL matches and excitement is when you see them on the big screen.
But this is the first time in the history of the IPL that the matches are being held without an audience! Though this year’s IPL tournament is being played in the Gulf it is a very strange situation. The players are there. The refree are there. The media including the electronic media is there. The other officials of the various competing teams are in the stadiums. But the main attraction both for players and organizers are not there. There is no audience to cheer MS Dhoni when he in his brilliant fashion gives a match his winning touch by scoring six or four of the last ball.
You can see Virat Kohli expecting to become a father soon on the field. But you cannot rush towards him from the stands to wish him on his first baby. We don’t even know if mother Anushka Sharma has been permitted into stadium.
In November the India Football League owned by Nita Ambani will be in action in Goa. All the 40 matches of the IFL league will be played in three stadiums in Goa. For those who are not sports minded a league means that every team has to play every other team. This is unlike a knockout where if you are defeated in a single match they are out of the tournament. It is estimated that there will be about a thousand people in the stadium in which the matches are being played. But it will appear as if the matches are being played purely for the benefit of the owner of the tournament Nita Ambani and a few of her friend including of course the entire extended Ambani family. Which will include Dattaraj Salgaocar, Deepti Salgaocar and daughter Ishita Salagaocar.
Goans are football crazy. Much more football crazy than cricket crazy. Half the top teams in the country are from Goa. It is the teams from Goa which have won the Independent League and various other tournaments like the Santosh Trophy. But football crazy Goenkars will have to watch this time’s IFL on a giant screen. Most of them may not even be able to watch it in a restaurant or bar where they can cheer their team and exchange comments on favourite players’ performances.
What applies to the ongoing IPL in cricket will apply to the forthcoming IFL in November and indeed, every tournament including a Wimbledon — the most popular tennis tournament in the world. The spoilspot is Covid-19. There is no way the organisers of this tournaments can ensure the one meter distance required between spectators that Covid-19 requires to prevent the infection. Even the players in the IPL had to stay separately to avoid infection on the eve of the IPL and they could not put in any practice because as many as ten of the Chennai Superking team led by Dhoni were infected by Covid-19.

NEW NORMAL HEADACHES

RESTAURANTS and hotels are open. Ranging from the luxury Marriott and Taj Vivanta to common people’s Navtara, Bhonsle, Tato and Café Real. But the restaurants can accommodate only half their capacity. This means that if they have 20 tables or 80 covers they can only serve ten tables or 20 covers. Even in the humble Udupi and popular common man’s Goan restaurants like Tato’s and Bhonsle’s they can only serve at half the tables in the restaurants which customers presumably maintain a meter’s distance.
Which is why many of the even relatively big restaurants like Fortune Miramar have not yet reopened for business. At the other end of the spectrum many of the small typically Goan restaurants have had to close down. Even those which are operating rely more on canteen operations and takeaways than permit customers to enter and sit down for service in the premises. Even in the Goan restaurants and bars functional profits have dropped sharply.
HISTORICALLY many of us have complained that whenever we have visited government offices like the CCP or the Mamlatdar’s office for a domicile certificate the dealing hand is not on his table. You can no longer complaint because now they have official permission to bunk work and stay at home. The government has decided that only half the staff in the main Secretariat in Porvorim will come to work every day. This applies to all the government offices.
In the case of private offices employees are increasingly being encouraged to work from home. A national newspaper reported the dilemma of a first time young employee who has physically not met her employer at all. She was recruited online and is working from home online. Is this perhaps the future of employment in the Covid-19 era?
Newspapers are no exception. There is not enough space in the office of any newspaper to ensure a meter’s distance between employees. So many employees have been asked to work from home. Some have unfortunately been sacked. There are also stranger cases like at the oHeraldo where some staff have been asked to stay at home and work but without pay!
One cannot of course blame the media owners completely. There is no business activity. Consequently there are not much advertising. So there is not enough money to pay employees be they full time, part time on contract or freelance basis. Media organisations small and big who depend on outside printers have no choice but to cut down on their print order because there is not enough revenue to pay each edition’s printing costs. The majority of papers have cut down on their print orders as revenue has fallen sharply.
Unfortunately, we at the Goan Observer are also faced with the same situation but more critically. With due payments slow in coming in the big bills of a print edition are unaffordable. Which is why lately we have been compelled to go online only on several occasions. But most Goan business establishments don’t feel like advertising online and I must confess we still have to master the fine art of monetizing our online edition.

HUMOROUS TOUCH

THERE is also a touch of humor over the Covid-19 induced working pattern in various fields. As in the case of all other fields the judiciary has also been forced to switch to tele-conferencing and zoom conferencing. The most popular tool is the zoom. His Lordship the judge is in his chamber sitting in front of a laptop or a computer. Both the litigants which includes the complainant and accused are similarly seated in their own office or residence. The lawyers are seating in their office or home. There are many lawyers and judges who are not computer savvy like me!
Those who do not have extensive experience of zooming in and out have been caught in very embarrassing situations. When the spotlight suddenly switched to a lawyer the judge found that the lawyer was wearing only a casual T-shirt. The Supreme Court on its part have asked lawyers not to wear long gowns as they may harbour and spread infection. The most amusing report that we came across is the one in which the judge catches a lawyer asking his wife to help him set up the zoom as she was more computer literate than him. They can also be uneasy moments when zoom suddenly focuses on you without you are being aware of it. A lawyer discovered he was being zoomed when he was making off the record nasty comments about the judge!
We do not know how long this Covid-19 pandemic is going to hang around. Whether it is global or only in India the numbers are still spiking and ever on the upward march. There is some science about a peak beyond which the numbers are supposed to decline. Quite apart from the risk of catching the wretched infection is the problem that many of us are not highly computer literate. If you are not computer savvy and a wizard on the smart phone you better take lessons. If you have been recruited during the pandemic and are working without meeting colleagues or your boss daily get used to functioning and living in a virtual world. For a long, long time to come it looks the world is going to belong only to those are technologically independent.
The silver lining is a sharp reduction in cost. You can run a huge IT firm like Microsoft or Infosys entirely without any actual traditional office space or premises. Senior executives who enjoyed travelling around the world to attend conferences are now limited to zoom! Everyone is tele-conferencing from heads of the state to the junior most executive. US President Donald Trump greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday in a tele-conference. All the PM’s public relation is now online rather than off line. So far only the major event which has not gone online is what happens in Parliament. Parliamentary sessions if not virtual would mean high costs of putting up safety screens separating MLAs so as to prevent infection. Even travel has become rare and international flights have still to get back to the old normal, until then there is only bubble travelling. The only universal message making the rounds is still “Stay home, Stay safe.” Yes, but how do ordinary people make a living!
IN a building in Mumbai in Juhu where my sister-in-law stays there was a death on the topmost sixth floor. A large family staying there was slow in informing the office of the co-operative housing society that their father had died of co-morbidities and Covid-19 and there should be no condolence visits. And since the gentleman was a senior member of the society and everyone in the building presumed it was just another normal death they went along to pay their condolences to the family, only to later learn that the report had come after death and that it was Covid-19 death! It’s only when this came to be known with the BMC folk coming around and visiting all the flats asking questions and ordering all in the building to be on 14 days isolated quarantine, that it dawned that in case of death it’s better to check cause of death first before rushing to offer condolences and running the risk of getting Covid-19.

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