The WHO recently warned that the viral variant omicron, first discovered in South Africa last week, may spread around the globe and result in ‘severe consequences.’
Even as scientists the world over are busy understanding the vaccines’ efficacy against it, the new variant has all but ruined plans for lavish (and not-so-lavish) Christmas and New Year parties this year. As states issue measures to combat Omicron, festive plans are in disarray.
Top hotels and the Richie-rich who hoped to bid a stylish goodbye to 2021 are a dejected lot as the future seems uncertain.
Despite the new variant concerns, the ‘big fat Indian weddings’ are back on, though Government guidelines have pushed families and wedding planners to the edge.
‘Be careful during the marriage & festive season’
Another high-profile wedding in December is that of the daughter of IAS Rajat Kumar, Special Chief Secretary of Telangana. The bureaucrat has ensured that the number of guests is restricted, most family members have their RT PCR checks done and masks and sanitisers are widely in use.
“Overall, think India has handled the pandemic very well, but we shouldn’t let our guard down. The new virus mutants aren’t well understood, so some international travel restrictions are necessary. At the individual level, people should get vaccinated on priority, maintain social distance, wear masks and regularly sanitise their hands. People must be particularly careful during the ongoing marriage and festive season,” he advises.
‘Fear is never a solution’
Parvathi Reddy, executive director of an engineering service company, NAR Infra Pvt Ltd, is celebrating her son’s marriage on 12 December. “Fear is never a solution; how to deal with the problem is the issue. Fear only creates confusion and unnecessary stress. When dealing with an issue, safety is everyone’s priority. As for Omicron, we have to be careful but not disheartened. Life goes on with needed precautions. Festivities can be celebrated by following Government norms on the level of precaution to be followed for everyone’s safety.”
‘6-hr wait at airport… can definitely infect people
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Executive Chairperson of Biocon, has sharply criticised the new travel regulations following the spread of new Coronavirus variant Omicron, necessitating long waits at airports for international travellers.
“Day 1 Of Omicron Travel Rules, Upto 6 Hours Wait For Tests: 10 Points. Even if you did not have the infection you are likely to acquire it at the airport,” the head of India’s largest biopharmaceutical company tweeted, referring to waiting time of up to six hours after the new travel regulations came into force on December 1.
The Government of India has mandated testing on arrival for all passengers from at-risk countries while others have to monitor themselves for two weeks. “Gross mismanagement greets flyers at Bengaluru airport as new Covid restrictions set in to tackle the Omicron variant. This is a huge infection risk for travellers,” she said in another tweet.
An optimistic travel sector
Hospitality advisory service HVS Anarock reveals that hotel occupancy in India touched 56–58% in October. But one wonders if the industry, banking on Christmas and New Year parties to rescue the festive season, will be overshadowed by the pandemic.
One thing is clear for the hotel business, according to Alok Kaul, GM, Radisson Resort & Spa, Lonavala. “It’ll continue to be the best-performing asset. It’s too early to say what exactly may happen here. But people have been through this now and they know how the situation and virus will react. There’s something called resilience. So we’ve two sections — one that understands what needs to be done and the other that doesn’t care,” he says. “But I’m confident the threat won’t cripple businesses provided people continue to observe proper health protocol.”
The travel sector, which was looking at an imminent recovery in 2022, has also a new picture to deal with Omicron around. But whether it’s revenge tourism or otherwise, people’s movement around popular tourist destinations has been increasing.
Rishabh & Nirali Shah, founder, Gypsycouple, a travel agency designing custom itineraries for couples believes that even with the fear of Omicron, a total lockdown does not seem like a concern. “There is a high latent demand at least in the domestic markets, be it because of revenge travel or just so people get back to a feeling of normalcy. Airlines are full and hotels are reporting high occupancy rates,” Rishabh states. “With a record number of weddings happening this season, honeymoons are also a big tourism driver in the coming months. On the whole, we’re optimistic and are also planning a trip in December-end.”
Chirag Agrawal, COO and Co-founder, TravClan, a travel supply chain that’s connected to 15,000 travel agents pan-India, feels that his company, the travel trade and travellers are better prepared to deal with Omicron. “Most nations are right now reacting, as expected, on the basis of very little proven information,” Chirag says. “During the first wave, the travel industry stopped for nearly 6 months and started recovering around October. During the second wave, which was much severe, travel stopped for 2–3 months but recovered much faster. We feel even if Omicron spreads widely, it’ll impact the industry for a short period and travel will rebound quickly.”
‘Life has to go on’
If there’s baraat, the band and the baaja shouldn’t be too far behind. But even as the pandemic has taken a toll on band services, Pratap Singh, founder, Swaraag, an Indo-Western Fusion band from Rajasthan, believes one shouldn’t live as per the viruses or variants. “We should all keep moving ahead in life. I think it’d be very difficult for the world to survive if we stop our work or lives for these variants. We should keep working as per the situation in our day-to-day lives with the mantra ‘jo hoga dekha jayega [Cross the bridge when you come to it]’. Yes, I’d definitely suggest that all of us follow mandatory precautions and safety protocols,” states a confident Pratap Singh, whose band team has also started working as things have started to reopen now with mandatory precautions. “No one knows what lies in our future but for now our focus is on our careers and improving the quality of our performances at every show we perform.”
New variant is a matter of concern
Though COVID-19 cases have been declining in most countries, the surge in cases elsewhere in the world and the confirmation of a new ‘variant of concern’ is a reminder of the persisting risk and the need for us to continue doing our best to protect against the virus and prevent its spread. At no cost should we let our guards down. Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures to prevent transmission must continue. The earlier the protective measures are implemented, the less restrictive they’d need to be to be effective. The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus will have to change and mutate, and the pandemic will last longer.”
— Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region
Dealing with Omicron, the party-pooper!
‘Fingers crossed, all goes well’
Weddings are mostly going as planned and hosts, event organisers and vendors like us are keeping our fingers crossed. It’s a new challenge no doubt, but I’d like to stay positive and hope it blows over soon and that we don’t have to compromise on the design, décor or entertainment after months of planning.
— Meher Aria, founder, Star Ventures Event Stylist
‘There are ways to work around’
It’ll take a couple weeks before we actually find out more about Omicron. Everyone’s speculating about it, but no one’s taking it seriously. We can’t surely afford another lockdown. From guests in masks, to table assignments that include only members of the same household and even multiple, smaller dance floors are ways that one can enjoy events safely.”
— Bunty Bajaj, entrepreneur and founder of Krsala Jewellery