COOKING AND SERVING (SURVIVAL) IN THE TIME OF COVID-19.
We have officially gone into a state of panic and disillusionment about day to day activities which exposes us to fellow citizens.
It is with a sad heart that I share with you the news of cancelled events, postponed shows and clampdown of the food and drink industry.
We are yet to be dragged into a national “lock down” which will see the country transgress into a state of unrest, uncertainty and most definite economic turmoil.
In 1918 the first case of an unusually severe and deadly strain of influenza, popularly called Spanish Flu or ‘Great Flu’, were diagnosed in Durban. It’s ironic that the first case of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was also identified and diagnosed in Kwazulu-Natal in March 2020. At the time of sharing this, we were on 116 reported cases (that we know of); our fear of local transmission cases has realised, and we are tethering on the edge as business and parliamentary decisions are made on the daily.
There are shocking reports of refusal to be tested, families cowering in their homes for fear of transmission or public exposure, “panic shopping” and increase in crime as a result of survival. It is literally “survival mode” and this is only week 2 of exposure.
Where does this leave the people-dependant hospitality industry?
Like the 1985 novel by Gabriel García Márquez – Love in the Time of Cholera – our industry is “sick in his heart and in his stomach” similar as the main character Florentino Ariza longs for his lover, Fermina. The hospitality industry is longing for their patrons and regulars.
I do not equate the current situation with cholera, nor project that the situation will leave the industry desolate for “fifty-one years, nine months, and four days” as Florentino suffered when his love rejected him in the Arcade of the Scribes.
But I take one theme from the novel; the hospitality industry is filled with people who are proud, relentless and love their calling deeply.
References to birds as representations of danger and temptation are made continually throughout the novel; yet I cannot distance myself from the thought of how social media and public platforms are representative of this. The danger and temptation we face is the proverbial “panic en masse” which is fuelled by public platforms, scaring and drumming up support of the hoarding and avoiding tactics.
In South Africa we have seen the panic set in like a wave, yet we must “beware, for the birds will peck one’s eyes out”. Several establishments have boarded up their doors and sent staff to confinement and “isolation”; resulting in loss of income and wide-spread fear. Will they return to a place of employment once this craze is contained?
Business owners are questioning their viability to sustain a business which is dependent on people.
But this is not news.
What is currently happening in this people-driven industry which depends on hands to cook, serve, clean and greet people from all walks of life (exposed to possible transmissions or not)?
- High-end restaurants are limiting their number of available seating at a time; trying to keep to the legislation of implementing social distancing.
- More restaurants and food outlets are resorting to outsourced delivery services.
- Restaurants are making use of single-serve cutlery and crockery to minimise the possible spread of the virus.
- Closure of establishments have started taking place.
- Reduced menu options which restricts diners to only a few options, to minimise the time spent choosing dining options, and cutting down on time spent preparing and serving guests.
- Alcohol-based sanitisers on tables and counters to encourage patrons and guests to assist in keeping their hands and the surfaces they encounter clean and sterile.
- Shorter operating hours are observed.
- Training and awareness of the virus, symptoms and transmission is conducted in the workplace with staff.
We are going into “flu season”, with the worst yet to come. With the current trajectory of infections (taken from the rate of infection we have observed since the outbreak) we could project a national crisis before the end of this month.
“With the disease currently growing at a rate of 61% a day in South Africa, by the end of this month we could run out of ICU beds. The best-case global growth-rate average is 13% a day. The M&G Data Desk crunched the numbers on the 61% growth rate and by the end of the month, 70 328 people could be infected. By April 1, this could jump to 112 525 and by April 2 it could be 180 000.” – Mail & Guardian (https://mg.co.za/article/2020-03-16-the-mgs-latest-projection-on-covid-19-infections/).
Current concern for the hospitality industry
- Tourism units (popular tourist destinations, museums and the like) are limiting their number of entrants to conform with social distancing guidelines.
- The hotel industry is facing a mammoth challenge in the number of cancellations and postponements from visitors from outside of South Africa. As the travel bans are implemented, South Africa is staring into a black hole of economic bankruptcy which will inevitably result in job losses, closures, economic downgrading of status and unrecoverable debt.
- The events industry is facing challenges with clients cancelling their functions and leaving the wedding-industry in a lurch with cancellations and postponements.
- International travel from South-Africa is banned to high-risk countries where confirmed cases of infection is still prevalent.
- Travel bans imposed by countries means the closing of borders and air transport, further resulting in loss to travel revenue.
- As one of the leading generators for income to South Africa, the entire economy will feel the wrath of this outbreak.
- We are yet to restrict or prevent local travel to areas due to the outbreak; however, that seems to be imminent.
- Trade shows pertaining to the food and beverage market is postponed or cancelled.
- Wine farms are closing their doors to discourage visits and to minimise their risk to the wine producing industry.
- Job losses and the increase in the current poverty of South Africa as the industry claws its way out of the recession.
- A blanket-ban on incoming cruise liners. Crew from cruise liners will not be allowed to disembark when arriving at port.
- Establishments that sell liquor must close at 18:00 on weekdays and Saturdays, and at 13:00 on Sundays and Public Holidays. (more here)
The economic and socio-effects of this pandemic has far reaching consequences, now spilling into education, trade and industries which are dependent on human interaction.
This is volatile times we are facing in our amazing industry; however we are people who love what we do and will stay tenacious in this turmoil.
As Gabriel García Márquez wrote about Florentino;
“His passion has persisted much like a deadly plague of cholera, for Florentino is literally plagued by love.”
Our love for food, drink, cooking, service and hospitality will persist much like Florentino’s love persisted “like a deadly plague of cholera”.
Stay safe, healthy and calm. xxx
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928, the eldest of sixteen children. After graduating from the University of Bogota, he worked as a reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador and as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas, and New York. His most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
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