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|Photo Duc Thanh|
In many restaurants and cafes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter now, anyone can easily recognise the slight changes in the seating arrangements and customer service compared to two weeks ago.
At a pub on Huynh Thuc Khang street, the owner came up with the idea of designing a 2-storey partition with an upper barrier made of mica and a gap below so that customers can pick up food and swing glasses together. This unique concept attracted the attention of many customers and was adopted by many neighbouring bars.
Le Dong from Hanoi’s Cau Giay district said, “I have seen many eateries with separated walls, but this is the first time I see a pub that also builds these partitions for customers. Although it is not clear whether it will work, this is a good idea for the time being.”
Derived from the idea of a plastic partition, the splash-proof mica partition is appearing at more and more restaurants, pubs, rice shops, and cafes in Hanoi.
Dang Thu, the owner of a restaurant on Chua Lang Street, said that installing these partitions on dining tables is quite simple and takes little time. Before she reopened, her family members worked together to install the partitions to limit the contact between customers. Although there are many visitors, the restaurant only accepts enough customers to ensure the distance between them is kept.
Since the discovery of the first COVID-19 case in Hanoi’s community since the new outbreak, measures to prevent the spread of the disease have been tightened by the city. In early August, Hanoi asked all bars and karaoke places to shut down, while restaurants and supermarkets deployed social distancing measures.
Since August 19, the city is requiring restaurants and cafes to ensure a minimum distance of 1m between guests, measure their body temperature, and prepare hand sanitiser. In addition, staff must wear face masks during work and encourage the installation of additional partitions between seats.
Ngo Van Quy, vice chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, said that restaurants and pubs are places where people gather and as a result have a high risk of infection. Therefore, the application of additional measures such as a 1-metre space between seats and a partition between the tables will contribute to reducing the risk of infection.
“It may be necessary to regularly check on restaurants and sanction those who do not comply with the measures. In addition, we might also send out more personnel to inspect food safety and hygiene of restaurants and eateries,” Quy commented.
Most of the city’s stores and eateries seem to agree with the distancing measures under the new regulations, and many are not just providing disinfectants in front of the door but also put hand sanitiser on the tables for customers to use at any time.
Thanh Van, the owner of a restaurant in Dang Van Ngu Street said, “As soon as I was informed about the current measures, I equipped the restaurant with thermometers, hand sanitiser, and more face masks. Guests are reminded by staff to wear these, disinfect their hands, and sit apart from each other to ensure safety.”
Meanwhile, such measures are also being deployed at supermarkets, shopping centres, and electronic shops in the capital. “All staff in the building must wear masks and disinfect their hands regularly when working. The entrance to the mall has also been narrowed to better control the flow of incoming customers. Most people are self-conscious to wear a mask, so I only assist in measuring body temperature and providing sanitiser,” shared a staff member at the entrance to Vincom Pham Ngoc Thach.
While many food services actively cooperate with the city in preventing the spread of the pandemic, Timeout has observed some restaurants and cafes that do not comply with the prevention regulations. In some small-sized pubs and eateries, many customers are still eating and chatting while not ensuring the minimum distance from those nearby.
This issue was raised by Do Anh Tuan, chairman of the People’s Committee of Tay Ho district in a meeting with the Hanoi Steering Committee for pandemic prevention.
“If the restaurant is small, it is difficult for its guests to sit at least 1m apart. If we strictly follow the instructions, closing is the only way. Normally, when the inspection teams come, these facilities comply with the regulations, but when our teams go again, the eateries will be the same.”
According to Dr. Tran Dac Phu, former director of the Department of Preventive Medicine under the Ministry of Health, the closure of restaurants and pubs should be carefully considered as it could affect the lives of many people. Instead of closing, restaurants and small pubs can still operate by incorporating more prevention methods.
“Small restaurants can make many partitions to sit, and each person who comes to eat and drink must measure their temperature, wash their hands, and wear a mask. During the pandemic, we just have to accept it,” said Phu.
Along with the rearrangement of seats to ensure a minimum distance, the addition of portable mica shields has also become popular.
However, according to Nguyen Cuong, owner of two C-Brewmaster craft beer restaurants, these shields are ineffective and cannot guarantee prevention of the spread of the virus. But like masks, mica shields will help people feel more secure when eating out.
Currently, Cuong’s restaurants does not use mica partitions but instead stretched out the tables and reduced the number of seats by 50 per cent while only seating up to two guests at one table. Though the number of customers that can be served got reduced by half, it makes both employees and customers feel more secure. “At this time, most restaurants and pubs are quieter than before. Business has become more difficult, but I think accepting a bit of economic disadvantage in exchange for safety is necessary – and our service personnel agrees with this option,” said Cuong.