GAMBLE: Those pining to visit Panaji’s casinos on shore and offshore which re-opened for business on Monday, September 20, 2021 will be putting themselves at risk for contacting the covid-19 in all its variants in Goa.
By Rajan Narayan
With the blessings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has promised five lakh free tourist visas and the re-opening of all tourism-related facilities, including Goa’s star attraction — the casinos on river Mandovi, Goa is all set for a third wave of covid-19. You don’t have to worry about limiting the number of guests for your birthday or wedding as now you can occupy 100% capacity of any wedding venue.
ON Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 71st birthday, he declared that Goa would take the lead in reviving the tourism industry in the country. Not surprisingly, immediately after Modi praised Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and the covid-19 warriors in the State, there was an immediate further relaxation in the curfew in force.
In fact, the covid-19 curfew has been scrapped for all practical purposes. This time the so called lockdown or curfew has been thrown virtually in the dustbin by the CM. He announced that from Monday, September 20, 2021, the long awaited demand of the casino lobby for the opening up of live gambling in the State has now got the official nod.
IT is not just the casinos which may return to business but also all the tourism services like massage parlours, night clubs, entertainment parks, water parks, spice farms and spas. The government and the police know fully well that many massage parlours are just a cover for prostitution rackets.
The State government has also given the official nod for functions to be held with more than 50% occupancy. It has been admitted that halls and convention centres may work at 100% capacity. The only segments of the tourism industry that have not been allowed to open are the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) venues which facilitate Sunburn-style rave parties.
OVER the weekend I attended two mega national conventions. The first of this was the 15th Global Communication Conclave of the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) in Goa. This is primarily a group of former and current public relations managers of public sector companies in the country, like the National Thermal Power Corporation (NPTC), Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum, etc.
In fact, the chairman of the conclave was MB Jayaram who is associated with the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited. The conference and award ceremony had delegates from around the country including covid-19 affected states like Kerala. Even before the official announcement by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, that functions can be held with 100% attendance, the PRCI award ceremony was jam-packed more than 200%. There was hardly a centimetre of physical distance observed between the delegates and award-winners who had come for the weekend ceremony-cum-holiday in Goa.
Very few of the delegates were wearing masks. Unlike in the case of starred hotels where thermal checking for covid-19 continues, we were free to enter the venue of the event at the Fern Kadamba Hotel & Spa without any covid-19 checking.
Even the few who were wearing mask were told it was okay to remove their masks as they went to receive their awards from Minister for Culture Govind Gawde and later pose for group photographs.
Considering that more than 100 over awards were given away, you can imagine the risk of mass infection for organizers, delegates, guests, hosted or paid for in differing categories. As a token gesture, during a discussion on covid-19, one of the organizing group’s compere asked the gathering how many of them had had secured both doses of vaccine. Many put up their hands but where’s the evidence that they had taken both doses of any one of the vaccines being offered in recent months?
TAJ CONVENTION CENTRE
ON Sunday, September 19, 2021 there was another action replay at the brand new Taj Resorts & Convention Centre, Goa owned by Fomento Resorts but managed by the Taj Group. There was a national Business Summit’21 on here organized by the Material Recycling Association of India over September 19-20, 2021. It conference presentations were to do with those engaged in the multi-million dollar business of recycling material.
Today’s mega recycling business also includes electronic smart phone digital waste generated the world over and which has been contracted out to India to dismantle and send to secondary re-cycling businesses. India has a young labour force which is cheap and barely educated about health hazards from handling radioactive material to be extracted from the mountain of discarded mobile phones.
The largest ship-breaking yard in the country still is at Alang at one end of the Gujarat sea coastal line. Even aircraft carriers and nuclear powered ships end up at Alang for dismantling and re-cycling as demand. The MRAI Business Summit 21 at the Taj Resorts & Convention Centre in Goa was held on a 100 plus% occupancy basis. Again this took place well before the official announcement that more than 50% occupancy is permitted. The official notification confirms that business can function with 100% occupancy.
IN the wake of the Onam festivities in Kerala there was a major surge in number of covid-19 cases. Before the Ganesh festivities in Goa the number of new covid-19 cases had come below 50 cases in Goa. The number of deaths had come down to zero.
But after the fifth day of the 11 to 21-day prolonged Ganesh festival, covid-19 cases started going up anew and touched a 100, now averaging to 80s. On Sunday, September 19, 2021, two deaths were reported. We expect the number of covid-19 cases to be on an upward swing again contrary to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s reassurances and claim that 100% or 102% of Goa’s population has not been vaccinated. We doubt if the entire population of Goa has taken its first dose. Daily medical bulletins clearly state that during the Ganesh festival the number of cases were low because testing had come down.
Obviously, most niz Goenkars have gone back to their ancestral village homes to celebrate Chavath, leaving only the bhaile bhumiputra in the urban towns and cities. Bhumiputra is the expression for migrants who have been residing and working in Goa for more than 30 years, most of whom do not celebrate the Ganesh festival.
THE domestic tourists have been coming to Goa in large number from August itself. The long Independence Day weekend saw a flood of domestic tourists rushing to the beaches with crates of beer bottles. With this one may say the tourism season has officially started in September.
There is a huge increase in domestic tourists. Till Monday, September 19, the five-star hotels were not full because they could operate only on 50% occupancy. They could not hold national and international conferences as only 50% of resort auditoriums could be used. But now with Modi’s blessings, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has apparently removed the guest limit for hotels or attending conferences. It is back to wooing peak covid-19 season for Goa.
In theory, adults are allowed to enter the casinos which are expected to function at only 50% capacity. We know what will happen in practice. In the case of auditoriums, resorts, community halls, river cruises, water parks, entertainment parks and cinemas, they don’t have to observe the 50% limit. All institutions catering to the tourism industry including multiplexes and independent cinema halls have been permitted to seat people beyond 50%.
CLEARLY from our own experience of the two mega events to do with public relations and material recycling businesses last week, Goa is okay with 100% occupancy. Which means there will be no scope for observing covid-19 protocols like maintaining physical distancing.
Again, in theory, only fully vaccinated adults (15 days after receiving the second dose) will be allowed to enter casinos, massage parlours and beach resorts. Our old experience proves nobody is checking on whether the honoured guests are fully vaccinated or have even received a first dose of any vaccine.
Not that receiving one or both doses of the vaccine guarantees immunity against contacting covid-19 infection. On the contrary, Medical Director of Manipal Hospital Dr Shekar Salkar, has admitted that of the over 3,000 deaths during peak epidemic, at least 20% were patients who had received both doses of the vaccine.
IT is not only domestic tourists and companies and even couples who want a beach destination wedding who are now free to come to Goa. Chartered tourists too want to come sun bake themselves on the beaches. Traditionally, charter tourism starts in September and continues till March the following year.
Before the covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, tourists from the UK and Russia were among the largest to take advantage of the fact that Goa is the only charter tourism destination in India. Most foreigners whether in the UK or in Russia are tired of the lockdowns and desperate to go on holiday, they will probably rush to Goa. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his anxiety to make Goa the country’s “bali ka bakra” has announced that he is granting five lakh tourist visas free to charter tourists.
Many of the tourists from UK and Russia may be infected with the Delta Plus variant of covid-19. In fact, President Putin of Russia and half his Cabinet are infected with covid-19. Of course the charter tourists are expected to produce evidence that are required to carry a RT-PCR covid-19 negative certificate issued within 72 hours of arrival in Goa.
Again in practise in an anxiety to make up for the losses of the last two years, no testing may be done. We asked, the taxi-driver who dropped us home late night from the Fern Kadamba on Saturday night, September 18, whether he took passengers to Belgavi? And whether there was any checking for vaccination or RT-PCR negative certificate at the Goa-Karnataka border? He told us quite frankly that police on both sides allowed both driver and passengers to pass on with a bribe of Rs250-300.
There are several countries in the world where the fruit of opening up tourism destinations after the lockdown have been very bitter. This is because there are still acute fears about the Delta Plus variant. Dr Shekar Salkar, at the PRCI meeting, cautioned against another deadly South African variant of covid-19 making its appearance.
EVEN as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant are ready to spread out the red carpet for tourists, a number of European countries including France and Germany, have re-imposed lockdown. New Zealand, which is a favourite destination for Goans to migrate to, is under strict lockdown, we know this as one of my sisters-in-law is locked down at home and works from home instead of going to office. She doesn’t go out because of a fresh crop of covid-19 cases.
The bitter truth is that Goa is still not ready for business, at least tourism business as usual. We are still not ready for lifting all restrictions on tourism establishments. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gift to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in the run up to the Assembly elections to be held in February 2022 is clearly a third wave of covid-19.