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As Delhi unlocks, bruised restaurant industry hopes for reprieve



Restaurants in the city will throw open their dine-in spaces – up to 50% of their total seating capacity and their bars closed – after eight weeks from Monday, with the Delhi government further scaling down restrictions in the ongoing lockdown in the light of Covid-19 cases declining for several weeks now.

“All activities, except certain prohibited ones, will be allowed from 5am on Monday. There are also certain restricted or partly allowed activities announced last week that will continue,” Kejriwal said in an online briefing on Sunday.

The chief minister, however, cautioned that if Covid-19 cases will increase, the government will scale up restrictions again. He appealed to all market associations to ensure that all Covid protocols are followed.

“We will watch the relaxation allowed to reopen markets and restaurants during the next week. If Covid cases do not increase, we will continue the relaxation, but if cases increase, we will have to bring back the restrictions.

“I, therefore, appeal all market associations and others to prevent crowding and ensure social distancing and other precautions,” the chief minister said.

A lockdown was imposed in Delhi on April 19. So far, restaurants were only allowed to offer take-away and home delivery either independently or through food delivery aggregators.

Restaurant owners welcomed the decision, citing how the industry has been adversely affected by the pandemic, and assured that they would strictly follow all necessary regulations for protection against any potential spread of Covid-19, but urged the government to allow them to serve liquor to guests.

An order issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) on Sunday said, “Restaurants are allowed up to 50% of their seating capacity. The owners of the restaurants shall be responsible for strict adherence to prescribed SOP (standard operating procedure) and all instructions/guidelines issued by the government of India/ government of Delhi from time to time as well as compliance of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour (viz. wearing of masks, maintaining social distancing, regular hand washing and use of sanitiser, etc) to contain the spread of Covid-19 virus. In case any violation is found, strict penal/criminal action shall be taken against the owner of the restaurant.”

Another part of the order essentially restricts liquor service in restaurants. It said, “It is directed that all district magistrates, districts DCPs, deputy commissioners of municipal corporations… and all other authorities concerned shall be responsible for ensuring Covid-19 appropriate behaviour, which is wearing of masks, maintain social distancing … (and) no consumption of liquor, pan, gutkha, tobacco, etc in all shops, malls, market complexes, weekly markets, restaurants, mandis, ISBTs and railway station.”

Two senior officials in DDMA confirmed that bars will not be allowed to open this week. However, liquor stores in the city are allowed to function all days a week under the current regulations.

“The industry is in distress. We hope that the current relaxation marks the beginning of its road to recovery. But we urge the government to allow bars to function too. They help in increasing revenue. There is already a 50% cap on seating capacity,” said Gaurav Chhatwal, owner of Chungwa in Greater Kailash – II.

Kabir Suri, owner of Mamagoto in Khan Market said, “It is a welcome decision. The industry could not recover from the shock of the first lockdown by the time the second lockdown happened. We hope the coming days will witness economic recovery and restrictions will be further scaled down very soon. We will ensure that all regulations and Covid-19 protocols are followed.”

Manpreet Singh, a Delhi-based restaurateur and treasurer of the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI), said the restriction on serving liquor does not make any sense. “Clients who are seated can order any food item or beverage. Then what is the harm in serving them liquor too? I fail to understand this condition especially at a time when liquor shops are allowed to operate. The government should reconsider this decision,” he said.

The Capital began to emerge out of a punishing fourth wave of infections in mid-May. The city has, for 16 days now, added fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 cases each day, and fewer than 500 cases for nine days. The seven-day average of cases, also known as the case trajectory, on Sunday fell to its lowest in 97 days. In the week ending Sunday, Delhi added an average of 271 fresh infections a day, the lowest since the seven days ending March 8, when the city added 268 cases.

Further, the city’s test positivity rate has stayed below the 1% mark for 10 days now.

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