Senior Lifestyle Writer
Eating out is a lifestyle, if not a culture for some, and going to a restaurant to have that lunch or dinner is actually an adventure.
Now, with some countries, including Zimbabwe, having re-opened the eating spots following Covid-19 lockdowns, there are still some precautions that need to still be followed.
For Zimbabwe, restuarants can now serve customers only take-aways, no sit-in, as the country monitors the Covid-19 trends going forward.
There was a time when dining at a restaurant was considered a special treat that people did once in a while, but today more people prefer to dine out.
In fact, dining out has become a part of our lifestyle and culture.
“The trend of dining out more often has a lot to do with our changing lifestyles,” explained Chitungwiza based hair stylist Primrose Kurima.
“Today, more people are pressed for time and cooking a full course meal just takes too long, particularly for families.
“People are eating out more often because they are too tired to start cooking, especially after long hours at work, and would rather have a quick meal from the restaurant.”
But wait a bit!
The coming in of Covid-19 has disrupted this culture of eating out, with restaurants either entirely closed or partially opened.
In fact, no one knows for how long Covid-19 will last.
The only thing we are aware of is that the situation could get worse, if we are not careful about how we observe regulations put in place to contain Covid-19.
Since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions early this month, local restaurant owners have been clamouring for a return to allowing sit-in.
But many fear such a situation could actually reverse the gains being made in the fight against Covid-19.
The fact is that local restaurants have been finding it difficult to enforce the wearing of masks, and allowing sit-ins will actually worsen the situation.
A survey done by Saturday Lifestyle has revealed that some restaurants are already allowing people to buy their food without wearing masks properly, while others are risking by allowing people to reach their serving points without having their hands sanitised.
Who is to blame for this? Should the authorities close the restaurants completely?
“I think we are good for now, but the problem is when people are advocating for the sit-ins in restaurants and at the same time some are not observing the Covid-19 regulations and restrictions, this then poses a danger, a threat,” said a worker from a restaurant along Herbert Chitepo Avenue in Harare, who preferred anonymity.
“Allowing sit-ins could turn out to be a super-spreader if we are not careful enough.”
There is a call for restaurant owners to make their places safe spots for guests and be tight on Covid-19 pandemic guidelines.
“It may be business, but how can you serve someone who is not wearing his or her mask properly,” echoed 28-year-old medical student Martin Kuchesa of Meyrick Park.
“We might think if there are no sit-ins we are safe, but be guided that Covid-19 is not spread through food. The first step in combating coronavirus is to make your restaurant as clean as possible.
“The virus is coated in an oily membrane, which means it is disintegrated by soap and water. Pay special attention to any surface customers touch, like light switches and doors, and any system that circulates air.
“Provide antibacterial gloves for your team, especially if they handle cash. Some operators are going temporarily cashless.”
A recent research by New York Times showed that sit-ins for restaurants could be super-spreaders of Covid-19.
“As officials in Texas and Mississippi lifted state-wide mask mandates, researchers at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered fresh evidence of the importance of mask use in a new study last Friday,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC said.
“Wearing masks, the study reported, was linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in countries across the United States. The researchers also found that countries opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.
“The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.
“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining.
“And, so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”
The findings came as city and state officials in the US grappled with growing pressure to reopen schools and businesses, amid falling rates of new cases and deaths.
Officials recently began allowing limited indoor dining at New York City restaurants.
Masks will still be required in both places.
US President Joe Biden and his team have stressed in recent days that now is not the time for Americans to relax, particularly on wearing masks.
Fatalities are falling, too, in part because of vaccinations at nursing homes. Yet the US is still routinely reporting 2 000deaths in a single day.
Restaurant Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe (ROZA) president, Bongai Zamchiya, last week called for partial sit-ins to be allowed in restaurants, arguing that the non-operational or partial-operational status since March last year had created a massive problem for the trade and up to half of existing operations were on the brink of permanent closure.
“We had hoped for re-opening of restaurants in the March 1 update announcement, with permission for half-capacity service for sit-down diners, but this has not happened,” he said.
ROAZ carried out research into the effects of lockdown and tabled a position paper with the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality and the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, outlining the severity of the situation.
“We are active in economic growth and contribute a significant amount to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s revenue, which is then used to promote domestic and international tourism,” said Zamchiya.
“What appears to have been forgotten is that properly-run restaurants have a high level of hygiene and of operational standards, all of which are easily monitored and are highly regulated anyway.”
Following research cited above and general observation of those thronging restaurants, some have called for sit-ins to remain outlawed as they are likely to aid in the spreading of Covid-19.
Dinners do not put on masks to allow them to consume their food, and this fuels infections within the eating places.
The best for now is to allow the restaurants to sell take-aways, while insisting on the correct wearing of masks for those visiting their spaces.