India's roadside restaurateurs count cost of pandemic


Karnal, India, 18 June : Asin Sharma lies idle on a cot near his restaurant by a highway linking India’s capital New Delhi with the northern state of Punjab.

Few motorists stop at the line of five open-fronted roadside eateries on this stretch of highway. Those who do venture cautiously inside ask only for tea and water. The restaurant's tandoor, a traditional clay oven used for baking flatbreads, sits cold and unused.

"We are in a very bad situation and the restaurant is on the verge of dying," said the 35-year-old. "We have no work and so many expenses to bear. Our condition is pathetic."

The eateries or "Dhabas" are ubiquitous in India. Tens of thousands line national highways but many are now struggling to survive as customers stay at home despite several state governments relaxing coronavirus curbs on movement.

Many Dhabas are family-run and employ millions, including local people and migrant workers. The problems they now face are part of a wider malaise in the travel and leisure industry, and the Indian economy in general.

India on Friday reported 62,480 new daily cases, down significantly from a peak of more than 400,000 on May 9 during its second wave of COVID-19 infections. Given low vaccination rates, experts are already warning of a third wave later this year.

Economists fear the sector faces weakness next year, even if the government can vaccinate the majority of India's near 1.4 billion people. Only 6% are fully vaccinated now.

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