A bleak Baishakh for restaurants
Around 30,000 restaurants across the country were eagerly waiting for this year's Pahela Baishakh, expecting that they would get booming sales. But none of them could have imagined what would happen in the coming days.
Covid-19 has brought the whole country to a standstill, no celebrations, no hang outs, no nothing.
Like any other holiday, Pahela Baishakh normally sees people thronging restaurants and juice bars with their near and dear ones to celebrate.
But against the backdrop of rising infections and death toll, the government has prohibited all sorts of outdoor gatherings.
Restaurant owners and staffers are struggling to stay afloat in these trying times. The miseries that come when one's short of money to feed their family is often too much to bear.
"Staffers have gone to their homes after the shutdown, but recently they started reaching out to us, as they need money to survive," said Khandaker Ruhul Amin, president of Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association.
"We are discouraging staffers to return to the capital," said Ruhul, also a director of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries. "We're now making a list of staffers to extend some support."
Faisal Ahmed, owner of Faisal Juice Bar and Indian Food at the capital's Wari, has been operating the business for the last seven years.
Although Bangla New Year is only celebrated for one day, a huge number of customers visit restaurants for three to four days, he said.
"We always prepare for these special days round the year. This year, we bought Tk 50,000-60,000 worth of fruits, but now, we have no choice but to eat them ourselves. Some fruits were distributed among the staff and the shop has been completely closed for the shutdown," he added.
It's not just Faisal who is desperately trying to deal with the crisis. According to the association, some nine lakh people working at 30,000 restaurants, 8,000 of which are in Dhaka city alone, are all suffering.
"On last year's Pahela Baishakh, our sales shot up by nearly three times than the usual," said Md Sumonuzzaman, operation manager of Just Juice.
He said they have six outlets in Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara and Uttara, where about 40 staffers work. But since March 20, when the situation gradually began deteriorating, these outlets were shut. They are now struggling to pay their employees' salaries and rent.
On March 31, the prime minister directed all to celebrate this year's Pahela Baishakh digitally, without creating any mass gatherings, in line with the government's "stay-at-home" guideline.
To bring back a little bit of Baishakhi celebration, the association is planning to introduce some special food items, but they will only be available for take-away.
"We don't need any donation, but we need low-interest loans. If the government takes steps to provide support and facilitate loans through the association, then we and our staff will be able to get through this crisis," he added.
On April 5, the prime minister unveiled a stimulus package of Tk 30,000 crore, which will be provided to affected industries and service sector organisations as working capital through banks as low-interest loans.