Andhra Pradesh

Omicron shadow on Sankranti travel plans

Just when most of us thought that we have put our worst behind us, fear of an imminent third wave looms large with a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

Just when most of us thought that we have put our worst behind us, fear of an imminent third wave looms large with a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

After muted New Year celebrations amid night curfews and restrictions on large gatherings, people will witness the same existing order of things during the forthcoming Sankranti. The festival marks the beginning of the harvest season when new crops are worshipped and shared with delight. But, the rapid resurgence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed people of such delightful opportunities of collective festive fun.

Just when most of us thought that we have put our worst behind us, fear of an imminent third wave looms large with a surge in new infections. The fear that the Omicron variant, said to be highly transmissible, might derail the small recovery made in the last few months, is giving sleepless nights to many.

Experience from the previous waves of the pandemic tells us that restrictions are imposed on mobility of people as the number of cases rise and this, in turn, has an adverse impact on economic activity.

The transport sector is one of the first and worst segments to bear the brunt of restrictions on mobility. The global pandemic has played a spoilsport for those in the transport business. This is the season of festivals and weddings that bring families and friends together for collective fun. Cashing in on the festive mood, the AP State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) is running special services of buses to cater to the commuting needs of the public. More than 6,000 buses belonging to the RTC fleet will carry commuters from one destination to the other before, during and after the festival days of Bhogi, Pongal and Kanuma on January 14, 15 and 16 respectively.

Safety measures

“In view of the surge in the virus infections, we have been extra cautious, constantly monitoring the regular sanitisation of the bus stations and the vehicles besides insisting on COVID-appropriate behaviour by passengers like maintaining social distancing, using hand sanitisers and wearing face masks without fail,” says Ch. Dwaraka Tirumala Rao, Managing Director, APSRTC.

Some people may have put off their travel plans fearing the virus spread but the fact that in a good number of special buses being pressed into service by the APSRTC, 50% of tickets have already been booked goes to prove that a sizeable section of people want to go ahead with their festival plans.

To make its services accessible to people, the corporation has deployed 350 officers, supervisors and staff in major cities of Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru for smooth functioning of the special services. This is in addition to the provision of setting up a call centre with an exclusive phone line (0866 2570005) to enable people to get the information they need.

Occupancy ratio drops

Private bus operators, who already have their cup of woes brimming on account of the huge revenue loss incurred during the first and second waves of the pandemic, call the resurgence of the virus the proverbial last straw bound to break their backs. “The daily occupancy ratio on an average has come down to 70% and buses that travel to places like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra that have night curfew, have been witnessing only 50% OR,” says M. Sambi Reddy, president of the Andhra Pradesh, Telangana State Bus Owners’ Association. “If the State imposes night curfew, it will spell disaster for us because unlike the APSRTC, we private operators run our buses only during night time,” says Mr. Reddy, who owns a fleet of 30 buses operated under the brand Varun Travels.

Mr. Reddy has been running only half the number of his buses ever since the first wave of COVID pandemic broke out. “Considering the perils of travelling by public transport, many people now prefer private vehicles or even put off their travel plans unless it is unavoidable,” he says.

Reluctance among staff

The pain of COVID deaths in families, relatives, neighbours, friends and acquaintances is still fresh in people’s minds. That’s probably why health has taken precedence over work for many truck drivers who refuse to join work as the Omicron variant takes hold. The precarious nature of their work, touching the borders of other States that have a surging number of cases and inviting the risk of falling sick is spurring a second thought among many truck drivers. “We are trying to educate drivers and their assistants (cleaners) on the need to follow the stipulated protocol and ensure sufficient stocks of hand sanitisers and face masks in the vehicles at any given time,” says Y.V. Eeswar Rao, general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Lorry Owners’ Association.

However, different projections are being made with regard to the peak of the third wave of the pandemic and speculations galore on the severity of a possible surge of Omicron cases. “Regardless, we need to ensure that there is no room for complacency,” emphasises Mr. Reddy.


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Printable version | Feb 13, 2022 7:10:07 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/omicron-shadow-on-sankranti-travel-plans/article38228807.ece