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Feeling safe when dining out in time of coronavirus

IN July, Vietnam seemed a safe place to be, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic now affecting every part of the world. There were no reported deaths, and months had passed without a locally transmitted case.

Praised as a success story, the government closed its borders to all but returning citizens, quarantining and testing anyone entering the country in government facilities. It also conducted contact-tracing and testing nationwide. But when cases suddenly surged in Da Nang, a coastal city popular with domestic tourists, all visitors were flown home and the city went into lockdown. Every resident will be tested for the disease, and a field hospital set up. No expense will be spared in slowing the disease.

Social distancing at Sabai Thai in Ballantyne Park

In Zimbabwe, we’re facing an economic and humanitarian crisis. With Covid-19 cases approaching the 5,000 mark, the government is simultaneously trying to protect lives while searching for ways ways to restore the economy. The collapse of clothing, manufacturing and textile industries having contributed to a shrunken formal economic sector, 90% of the working population now ekes out a living in the informal sector. While lockdown does slow down the pandemic, it also means that subsistence traders aren’t able to buy food, clothing or fuel. The economy can be salvaged by providing protection for the workforce, and limiting transmission of the virus.

Every country is searching for ways to limit the spread of the virus, protect the population, and preserve the economy. The closure of pubs and bars and the recently introduced 6 am to 6 pm curfew requires us to spend quiet evenings at home, soothing fractious children, sipping a glass of wine, preparing a meal in the kitchen, or watching TV to catch up on the latest news.


Open air dining at Sabai Thai

If you’re not engaged in essential services, and time hangs heavy on your hands, you may need to either fully embrace boredom, or to learn some DIY skills to keep things running smoothly at home. Is your domestic worker marooned in Murehwa by travel restrictions? Mix up a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water, and tackle the greasy oven you’ve ignored for months. Wipe down all your kitchen surfaces with disinfectant, and if you’re still at a loss for distraction, find a tin of polish and a yellow duster, and shine up the dining room table and chairs.

You’ve probably been leaving your shoes by the front door and padding around the house in your slippers, thus avoiding tracking the virus through the house. 48 hours should have done the trick, so put away all the footwear left in the hallway, until such time as you need to leave the house again. With the house looking tidy again, reward yourself with a snack, or make plans to eat out.

Should you feel unsafe about eating out in a communal area, choose a restaurant that offers outside dining, or a well-ventilated dining area open on two or three sides. Where owners follow the Covid 19 restaurant guidelines, it’s possible to relax and enjoy a well-cooked meal served by attentive wait staff.

We visited Sabai Thai in Ballantyne Park over the Heroes and Ancestors holiday, and owner Russell Macdonald described the measures he takes to ensure the safety of his patrons and staff. On arrival, temperatures are taken, and hand sanitiser applied. Face masks are mandatory, although diners of course need to remove them when their meals arrive. Tables are widely spaced, with no more than six people to be seated at each table.

Before service starts, the floor will have been washed, and tables and chairs wiped down with disinfectant. Once a guest leaves, the table and chairs will again be sanitised, ready for the next arrival. Staff are kept up to date with health and hygiene regulations, and Russell hires a car to transport his staff to work and back, minimising contact with possible infections.

In the coming weeks I’ll continue to eat out, and report back to readers about different experiences around the city. Coronavirus is likely to be with us for some time to come, so keep washing your hands, wear a face mask, observe social distancing, and when you decide to eat out, choose your venue with care.    A Matter of Taste  Charlotte Malakoff

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