With Indians getting ready to eat out, shop and have people over, the COVID 3rd wave may come sooner than anticipated
- ● 31% plan to visit a restaurant for a meal in the next 60 days while 29% planning a mall visit
- ● 90% plan to have extended family/friends, house help or service providers over in next 30 days
June 18, 2021, New Delhi: States across India have started phase-wise unlocking post the decline in COVID-19 cases in the ongoing 2nd wave of the pandemic. For instance, with COVID cases declining to a 3-month low, West Bengal has relaxed restrictions, extending the timing of restaurants and bars with 50% seating capacity. Similarly, in its 3rd phase of unlocking, Delhi has lifted restrictions from almost all economic activities like restaurants, malls and markets. Images and data from the national capital last weekend show how many markets and malls saw a massive rush with a clear violation of guidelines and 50% capacity rule. Experts are already raising the alarm that with crowding, social distancing and mask norms being violated, we are inviting trouble.
It must be noted that just 3 weeks ago, the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India issued advisories clearly stating that the SARS-COV2 virus is airborne and aerosols can travel up to 30 feet. In addition, it also highlighted surface transmission as a way of spread. The higher risk of unventilated spaces was also highlighted along with the need for air ventilation. With all these risks inherent in spaces like malls, restaurants and people’s homes, LocalCircles conducted a survey to understand what people plan to do in terms of their visits to malls and restaurants. With lockdown in place for 45-60 days and the unlocking just beginning, it also attempted to understand the kind of visitors people expect to have over at their home in the next 30 days. The survey received over 34,000 responses from citizens residing in over 314 districts of India.
31% citizens plan to visit a restaurant to have a meal in the next 60 days
Restaurants were amongst the first non-essential public places to open post-unlocking that began in September 2020. Citizens had become comfortable dining at restaurants as the number of cases kept declining till February 2021. With cases beginning to rise in March this year, most states imposed lockdowns and restaurants were shut for most of April and May. This month, some states have allowed restaurants to reopen with limited capacity after seeing a decline in COVID cases. The first question in the survey asked citizens if they would be visiting restaurants if they start to operate in the next 60 days. In response, 18% said, “yes will go once”, and 13% said “yes will go multiple times.” 53% citizens said they won’t visit a restaurant in the next 60 days. 8% said “not applicable”, and another 8% did not have an opinion. The findings of the survey indicate that 31% of citizens plan to visit a restaurant to have a meal in the next 60 days. This question in the survey received 9,038 responses.
The first case study of how COVID spreads in indoor spaces was that of a restaurant in China and indicated how the SARS-COV2 virus can easily spread in an indoor restaurant with people dining due to indoor air and no outside air ventilation. Air-conditioned restaurants in most parts of India do not have the infrastructure currently to recirculate indoor air several times an hour making them vulnerable spaces for COVID spread. Even those restaurants that are non-air-conditioned have a risk of spread as diners take their masks off while consuming food.
Malls, like restaurants, have been shut in almost all states of India for 45-60 days, and have now reopened in some states with 50% capacity. However, as some of them opened, they saw a huge rush. For instance, Select CityWalk mall in Delhi and Pacific Mall saw a huge rush with social distancing norms being flouted in public spaces of the mall. To understand if this was an exception and the kind of footfalls that can be expected in the coming 2 months, the next set of questions asked citizens if they plan to visit a mall in the next 60 days and what was the reason for them to go to the mall.
29% citizens plan to visit a mall in the next 60 days
The question asked citizens about their plan to visit malls if they were permitted to open in their respective cities in the next 60 days. In response, 9% said “yes, multiple times” and 20% said “yes, once.” The majority of citizens, 52% citizens said, “no”, while 7% said “not applicable” and 12% couldn’t say. At an aggregate level, the responses indicate that 29% of citizens plan to visit the mall in the next 60 days. This could lead to sizable traffic at the malls in the coming 60 days. This question in the survey received 8,945 responses.
Those that plan to visit a mall in the next 60 days, likely to go to purchase household, food and discretionary items or just for a change
The next question asked citizens, “What is the top reason you would like to go to a mall in the next 60 days?” From the responses, it was found that 6% would visit for purchasing discretionary items, 9% said to buy certain household food items, 6% said to visit for a change, and 1% each to avail of services such as salon and spa, for recreation, or visiting a food court/restraint. On the other hand, 63% of citizens said they do not plan to visit mall in the next 60 days. This indicates that those who will visit a mall in the next 60 days are likely to go to purchase household, food or discretionary items or just for a change. This question in the survey received 8,943 responses.
It must be noted that though many have been able to get their essentials in the local market or home-delivered, going to the mall and the department stores will enable them to get all miscellaneous supplies. Also, with schools starting in most states soon, many may need to purchase stationery, clothing and other related items for children. Also, for some others, going to the mall provides a change and a break from the routine that they have been following for 60-90 days even if they have nothing to shop for.
Government health officials and experts continue to warn that despite a decline in daily COVID-19 caseload across the country, citizens should limit their outdoor visits as well as indoor socialization with anyone they do not live with. The reopening of lockdown has removed restrictions and free movement of people is not permitted with some restrictions in late nights and on Sundays in some states. This is already leading to people resuming small gatherings with extended family and friends as it was experienced after the opening of the first lockdown in July and August. In order to minimise the risk of spread, many people who had refrained from calling domestic helps, or service providers for any repairs or maintenance have resumed their entry into homes and scheduling the long due visit. With the 45-60 day lockdown ending in most states, the survey sought to understand who all people are planning to have over to their homes for work or social reasons in the next 30 days.
Majority of Indian households are likely to have service providers, domestic help and extended family visit them in the next 30 days
The question in the survey asked, “What are the different categories of people that you expect will visit your home in the next 30 days?” In response, 13% said “(1) family and relatives that don’t stay with us” 4% said “(2) friends, neighbours, colleagues”, and 40% said “Domestic help, service providers and others” Breaking down the poll, 5% of citizens voted for “1&2” categories of visitors from the aforementioned options, 8% said “2 & 3”, 13% said “1 & 3”, and 7% said “1,2 & 3.” The findings indicate that the majority of Indian households are likely to have service providers, domestic help and extended family visit them in the next 30 days.
75% Indian households likely to have service providers, domestic help, other visitors (non-family/friends) visit them in the next 30 days
On an aggregate basis, if the data of those planning to have a visitor was analysed, it indicates that 75% of Indian households are likely to have service providers, domestic help and other visitors (non-family/friend) to visit them in the next 30 days. 43% will have family/relatives that do not stay with them and 27% will have friends, neighbours and colleagues visit them.
In summary, 31% of citizens plan to visit a restaurant, and 29% plan to visit malls in the next 60 days. In addition, 75% of Indian households expect visitors like domestic help, service providers etc. to their homes in the next 30 days. 43% are expecting visits from friends and relatives that do not stay with them, while 27% are expecting friends, neighbours, and colleagues to visit them in the next 30 days.
Given the known air-borne transmission of the SARS-COV2 strains, all the above activities without adhering to guidelines both by the business owners and the citizens are likely to accelerate the spread of COVID and a 3rd wave coming sooner. The Government Covid Taskforce has stated that it is premature to presume the country is out of danger as the possibility of a 3rd wave is high. Doctors have warned that we cannot be fully out of danger till most of the population is vaccinated which is a long way away given that only 250 million doses have been administered in a nation with a population of 1.4 billion.
The key here is to observe restraint by going out only when absolutely necessary, wear the right mask and observe social distancing. Similarly, people must continue to keep visitors at home to the essentials and that too with the COVID protocols. India experienced difficult consequences for its negligence in April and May with almost 60% individuals having someone in their social network getting impacted with the 2nd wave of COVID. The last thing we want socially and economically is an equally or more ferocious 3rd wave of COVID.
Over 34,000 responses were received from citizens residing in 314 districts of India. 66% respondents were men while 34% respondents were women. 48% respondents were from tier 1, 27% from tier 2 and 25% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.