Lessons from a virus

Hongkongers love hotpot, but the shocking news of 11 people coming down with Covid-19 infections after a family meal in February has cast a pall over the business.

Like most people, the pandemic caused 27-year-old Yang Lin to cook at home more.

Even though she wasn’t much concerned about the “high risk of infection” from hotpot, her friends didn’t want to dine in.

“So we prepared hotpot ingredients and ate at home or went for a hotpot takeaway,” said Yang, adding that most restaurants are offering good takeaway deals during the pandemic.

“I’m not tired of cooking, but cleaning up is tiring,” said Yang. “Every time I cleaned up the kitchen, I told myself to never cook again.”

With the social gathering ban being eased, hope is on the horizon for the culinary industry and those tired of cooking.

A survey conducted by the department of marketing at Hong Kong Baptist University, which collected responses from 445 people aged between 18 and 30, showed more than 70 percent of respondents reported dining out together as the activity they want to do the most after anti-epidemic measures are lifted.

Of these, more than 60 percent reported wanting to have hotpot, and more than half reported wanting to eat at Japanese and Korean restaurants.

With people expressing an increased desire to dine out, Henry Fock, the head of the department of marketing at HKBU, advised restaurants to make timely adjustments to their food delivery service teams and deploy more floor staff in response to the potential surge in customer demand.

At the same time, he added, restaurants also need to maintain stringent hygiene and anti-infection measures to protect customers and employees.

The outbreak also put on hold Yang’s Thailand travel plans: she was supposed to have visited relatives in the mainland during the Lunar New Year.

Even though some countries such as Thailand and New Zealand have brought the outbreak under control, Yang said she would not visit either country.

“Thailand is an ideal destination for winter instead of summer, and it is expensive to travel to New Zealand,” she said.

About 60 percent said they are interested in going on holiday and buying tourism products once the pandemic is over.

More than half said they are not willing to pay a higher price for a trip during public holidays immediately after the epidemic.

Fock said that while people are eager to travel, they still worry about the infection risk posed by long-haul flights and prefer destinations with comparatively better outbreak control measures.

Yang said she may travel to northwestern China, as the region has a vast territory, is sparsely populated and “will be relaxing.”

But she is less confident about making the trip this summer, as she is worried she might be sent to quarantine upon entering the mainland, even though Hong Kong’s quarantine regulations for mainland arrivals are expected to expire after June 7.

Only about 20 percent said they are confident about making a trip during the summer holidays, while about 30 percent are aiming for Christmas.

In terms of virus fears, more than 60 percent reported concerns about the large number of travelers setting off on vacations at the same time after the pandemic.

As an expat who “can’t stay at home,” Yang went hiking, biking and camping on the city’s outskirts nearly every weekend.

Fock expects that during the summer holidays, people’s willingness to stay in Hong Kong and spend locally will increase substantially.

“To attract more local customers and boost spending, members of the tourism industry should focus on promoting local tours.

Theme parks should consider offering local residents exclusive promotions. The tourism sector should also plan their hygiene and disease prevention measures for their operations in advance after the pandemic,” said Fock.

Yang said she would love to explore more of Hong Kong. But, at the same time, she misses Shenzhen.

Believing Shenzhen has more varied and cheaper dining and entertainment options, she used to visit weekly.

But she is ambivalent about opening the border. “Once the border opens, there will be many mainlanders visiting Hong Kong,” she said. “Retailers have been offering huge promotions recently.”

She worries a large number of visitors from the mainland will deepen hate across the border after the pandemic, and that the city may see anti-government protests again.

“I think I am used to the empty streets already,” Yang said.

(This article was published at The Standard on May 12, 2020: Education: Lessons from a virus )

200515 Lessons from a virus

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