COVID-19 | Thiruvananthapuram eateries hit by workers’ exodus

Some close down, some rework menus or hire Malayalis as migrants leave

March 18, 2020 12:49 am | Updated 09:30 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 17/03/2020:The business in city hotels has taken a hit following the COVID-19 virus scare. Some hotels have reported a fall in customers while some have downed their shutters. Workers in a city hotel relaxing during the day.......Photo:S.Gopakumar/The Hindu.






       









       



Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 17/03/2020:The business in city hotels has taken a hit following the COVID-19 virus scare. Some hotels have reported a fall in customers while some have downed their shutters. Workers in a city hotel relaxing during the day.......Photo:S.Gopakumar/The Hindu.






 









 



Misinformation on WhatsApp groups combined with a genuine fear of the spread of COVID-19 and pressure from family members back home seem to have led to an exodus of migrant workers who used to be employed in various restaurants here, to their native States. Some restaurants were forced to closed down on Tuesday, while some others had to rework their menu after temporarily hiring Malayali workers to replace those who left.

According to Mohammed Zeeshan, assistant manager of Zam Zam Restaurants, around 400 of the total of 600 migrant workers in their various restaurants in the city had gone home in the past few days.

“Most of those who have left are from Assam, Nagaland, West Bengal and Jharkand. We have hired a few Malayali staff to replace them. The menu had to be shortened. Many of them did not want to leave, but there was so much panic and they were getting frequent calls from family members requesting them to come back,” says Mr. Zeeshan.

Ayaz Sait, an office-bearer of the Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association, who runs three restaurants in the city, had to close down two of them due to staff shortage on Tuesday.

“A couple of days ago, an old video clip shot elsewhere of police personnel publicly announcing to migrant workers to return to their homes due to the dangerous situation circulated in several of the workers’ WhatsApp groups. That created a lot of fear and many of the uneducated workers fell for it, choosing to return home. We talked to some of them and instilled some level of confidence, but following the District Collector’s press conference, when the entire city almost shut down, some more of them left for home. If this continues for a week or so, only 20% of the restaurants here will be able to function,” says Mr. Sait.

Fall in customers

The fall in customers over the past few days, with quite a few following social distancing strictly, too have forced restaurants to limit their menu. According to Railway officials, trains towards Guwahati and Howrah, have been experiencing an increased rush of passengers, much above the normal rate.

At the same time, most of the migrant workers in the construction sector have stayed back, and civil work has been progressing. Experts attribute this to the limited public contact in the construction sector, compared to the hotel industry, contributing to less fear of contacting the virus.

“Construction activity has not suffered at all and all the projects are progressing. The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations (CREDAI) has released its own guidelines for worksites as well as the places where the workers stay. The workers have been asked to wash their hands while entering as well as leaving. Those who are taking public transport have been asked not to come, as most of them stay near the worksites. They have also been asked not to leave the workplace except in case of emergency,” says S. Krishnakumar, Chairman, CREDAI.

According to a source in the Labour Minister’s office, the department is organising regular visits of Labour and Health officials to migrant workers’ camps and sites, for creating awareness of precautionary measures. Campaigns are being run in multiple languages.

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