Rising Human Costs

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Centre’s calculations on unlocking seem to have gone majorly wrong

THE coronavirus pandemic has hit the businesses hard in the state as in the rest of the country. First, a long lockdown beginning March 22 in the state and beginning March 25 in the rest of the country forced the businesses to shut down. However, even in phase 3 of unlocking, the businesses in the state continue to be shackled by the fallout of the pandemic in terms of business. Faced with lack of clientele even after the country went into unlock mode, many businesses have either remained shut or have closed after a brief reopening. Those that continue to function are facing a severe resource crunch, with not much revenue generated on a day to day basis. The unchecked spread of the virus has only increased the fear among people and makes them avoid moving out. They keep their movements to the least in order to protect themselves from infection. Travels have been put off.

Such has been the impact of the pandemic in the state that the once thriving hotel and restaurant business has virtually collapsed, the lack of customers forcing some to close down. The businesses that borrowed money from banks have defaulted in repayment. The hoteliers who sought permission to reopen after the lockdown are facing an extremely difficult situation as customers  are hard to come. All their efforts to lure customers did not yield results. Some restaurants have been closed too. Many others are finding it difficult to run. A big fall in clientele has forced many eateries to hike the rates of the food items sold by them. It is not only restaurants but also other businesses such as retail and groceries that too have hiked their prices. Even the prices of medicines have been hiked. The increase in prices could be counterproductive as working people are already reeling under the impact of salary cuts and businessmen are taking financial hits. With incomes shrinking and the departure of the coronavirus not in sight, both businessmen and working people are spending wisely. That is one of the major reasons why the businesses are not getting clients.

The hospitality industry had hoped to cash in on the fall in the number of COVID-19 cases in the state in June. That was the reason why they pleaded with the government to allow them to restart the hotels. Other businesses too had expected to benefit from the revival of the tourism sector. However, soon after the government gave them permission, the state saw a big flareup of COVID cases, first in the Mangor Hill area of the port town of Vasco and thereafter in almost every nook and corner of the state. With hundreds of cases being reported in the state, and air, rail and road connectivity still restricted, there was little that could attract tourists to the state.

The COVID situation is becoming more and more grim with every passing day. There is no possibility of tourists coming, whether for business purposes or for recreation; there is no possibility of people visiting markets like normal days and spending like normal times. Businesses find it no less difficult to manage their staff costs. Businesses such as fishing are shackled by the problem of non-availability of labour. The migrant labourers who used to work for them have not returned, because the virus remains unchecked in their native states as well as in Goa. With no signs of the spread of the virus slowing down, the business community cannot expect normal business anytime soon. Unlock will continue to mean unlocking only in name as long as the state government and the central government do not succeed in containing the virus. The main idea that drove the central government to go for unlocking was that the virus was going to be around for a long, long time, so there was no point in keeping businesses shut. The central government had calculated that there would be an increase in the number of COVID cases with the unlocking; however, the economic benefits from it – that is, viability of businesses, wage employment and government revenue – would far outweigh the human costs. These calculations have gone majorly wrong: the human costs far outweigh the economic benefits.