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Can Europe’s restaurants survive the coronavirus lockdown? | World news



If there is such a thing as a European way of life, restaurants like Föllerei in Berlin used to give a pretty good flavour of what it would taste like.

In a crammed 40 sq metre (430 sq ft) space tucked away in a side street of scruffy but fashionable Neukölln, the owner, Christiane Föll, has for the last 10 years served up sumptuous Franco-German cuisine, darting between 10 rickety wooden tables night after night to recommend the organic entrecôte, pour another glass of Spätburgunder or share the latest locally sourced gossip.

Since Berlin went into lockdown on 14 March, however, the front door at Föllerei (a play on the German word for gluttony) has remained shut – and it is unclear if it will ever open again.

An overhead view of diners at Föllerei

Diners at Föllerei. The restaurant would struggle to cover costs if it moved tables a safe distance apart. Photograph: Föllerei

As European countries nervously begin to extricate themselves from restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, shops are beckoning in customers, metro trains are returning to regular service, and even hairdressers are sharpening their scissors.

Only three countries – Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy – have put a tentative date on when restaurants can resume service. As such, almost an entire continent’s gastronomic culture remains in limbo.

“The future looks bleak,” said Föll, who has already had to lay off two of her four employees. If she were to remove one of the tables, the owner and maître d’ calculates, she could just about guarantee a safe distance between diners but would then struggle to cover her running costs.

Valerio Calderoni and his wife, Martina, help to test a possible plexiglass separator at Il Ciak’ in Rome

Valerio Calderoni and his wife, Martina, help to test a possible plexiglass separator at Il Ciak’ in Rome. Photograph: Fabio Frustaci/EPA

“It just feels like personal bad luck,” said the 56-year-old, whose little restaurant managed to break even at the end of last year for the first time in a decade.

Last Wednesday, the German government announced it would help the food industry by cutting VAT from 19% to 7% from 1 July, though Berlin’s chamber of industry and trade fears many restaurants will already have been forced to go into administration by then.

“People don’t just fear for their livelihood – they are increasingly panicked,” said Thomas Lengfelder, the director of Berlin’s association for restaurants and hotels. “The corona restrictions will lead to a wave of bankruptcies like we have never seen before.”

On Tuesday, German economy minister Peter Altmaier conceded his government might be forced to set up a “rescue fund for gastronomy” unless full openings could happen soon.

Chairs and tables outside a closed restaurant in Berlin

‘The corona restrictions will lead to a wave of bankruptcies’: a closed restaurant in Berlin. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

In France, the cradle of modern European gastronomy, strict lockdown measures will end on 11 May but the government has yet to say when the country’s 240,000 restaurants and cafés can reopen. French media suggested last week that if the outbreak was under control at the end of the lockdown, they may be allowed to open in mid-June.

The government has promised to publish an “operational guide” outlining how restaurants and other outlets can maintain barrier and social distancing rules.

Roland Héguy, the president of the hotel industry union UMIH, said 2020 would be a “lost year” for members.

“It’s regrettable that we are the only sector that has no outlook for the future opening of our establishments, even when we are already working on practical guides on how to do our job while keeping our staff and customers safe,” Héguy said.

On 20 April, 18 of France’s most celebrated chefs published an open letter in Le Figaro warning that the country’s restaurants were “in danger of dying” and calling on the president, Emmanuel Macron, to allow them to open.

The shuttered Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre, Paris

The Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre, Paris. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images

At the time of year when tables and chairs would normally be returning to pavements and terraces outside cafes and bars in Spain, the authorities are exploring how a phased return might work.

This month, the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, said the city council was looking into reducing capacity in restaurants, enlarging outside seating areas and installing screens to separate diners.

Restaurant terraces remain closed at the usually overcrowded Plaza Mayor in central Madrid.

Restaurant terraces remain closed at the usually overcrowded Plaza Mayor in central Madrid. Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images

“These measures are designed to allow businesses to reopen as soon as possible – while observing social distancing rules – so that they can make up their losses and the economy can be reactivated,” he told the Spanish TV programme Espejo Público.

In Austria, restaurants will be allowed to reopen from 15 May if they adhere to a set of rules, including a maximum number of four adults per table and a minimum 1m distance between groups. Waiters will be required to wear masks while taking orders and serving dishes.

Diners are advised to book tables in advance, to avoid queues and make it easier to trace possible infection chains further down the line.

Many restaurants across the continent are already improvising to adapt to the new reality. Towards the end of a normal April, the terrace at Capitano Del Popolo, a restaurant in the hilltop town of Orvieto, in Italy’s central Umbria region, would be buzzing with customers enjoying early spring.

Instead, chef Valentina Santanicchio is busy cooking made-to-order meals, packing them in boxes and delivering them to people’s homes on her bicycle.

Stefano Tedesco, one of the owners of the Naturale restaurant, prepares and delivers home made-to-order meals in Rome, Italy

Stefano Tedesco, one of the owners of the Naturale restaurant, prepares and delivers home made-to-order meals in Rome, Italy. Photograph: Cristiano Minichiello/AGF/Rex/Shutterstock

“On the day we found out about the lockdown, I cried and panicked,” she said. “At that point, we understood that the situation was really serious but we also worried about the future. For the first week I was in shock as I tried to understand what it all meant. Then I tried to have a different outlook – do I close and abandon everything, or do I try to move forward in some way?”

Neighbourhood bars and restaurants are the lifeblood of many Italians towns, but their futures are in peril after more than seven weeks in lockdown.

Other restaurant owners in Orvieto, which is heavily dependent on tourism, have also adopted home delivery services, as much to keep themselves occupied as to mitigate the risk to business.

For Santanicchio, home delivery has been a novelty, albeit a successful one. Still, the bigger challenges for Italy’s catering businesses are yet to come. The country is in lockdown until 3 May, after which restrictions will gradually be eased, with bars and restaurants scheduled to open on 1 June. But FIPE, the Italian association for bars and restaurants, warned last week that as many as 50,000 across the country may be forced to close for good.

A man wearing a protective mask walks past a closed Chinese restaurant in Milan

A closed Chinese restaurant in Milan. Up to 50,000 bars and restaurants in Italy could close for good. Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

The businesses are entitled to claim €600 (£520) for each month closed and can apply for subsidised bank loans, repayable after two years. But payment of taxes owed during the lockdown has merely been postponed, and business owners still have to pay rent and bills. Staff have been furloughed but many are yet to receive their unemployment benefit.

“Even though I am lucky to have many customers who live locally, the only certainty I have right now is that I will lose 60% of customers overall,” Santanicchio said.

“People may be afraid to go to a restaurant or won’t have the money to spend. Coronavirus is very much the tip of the iceberg, because underneath there will be a frightening economic crisis.”

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We thought Reagan was the devil – then came Trump. America, we’re rooting for you | Ronald Reagan




Dear America,

HEY! How you guys doing? Longtime British Americanophile “reaching out” across the Atlantic. I’m here to heart you, USA. I’m like “hope the hurting stops soon” (strong-arm mid-tone emoji).

I guess you’re all making a list of The Worst Things Trump Did, then checking it twice because really, who’d believe it. And I know he’s primarily your monstrous problem. But even Brits are citizens of what we used to call “the free world”. Your president was once the leader of it. And one of the very worst things Trump’s done is to make Ronald Reagan look like an intellectual giant. Simply by comparison, Trump has humanised Reagan and elevated his memory to sainthood.

I’m currently researching the Gipper for a project and honestly, next to Trump he genuinely seems like … not the good guy, exactly? But definitely presidential. “Let’s make America great again” was Reagan’s slogan, of course. It was about “American values”, making America great in the world again. Trump’s slogan initially stood for rebuilding economic power. Now it’s shorthand for “let’s win the culture war I relentlessly inflame and sure, bring on an actual armed civil war if I lose the election”.

Of course, Trump’s humanity is at such undetectable levels he makes literally anyone else look like St Francis of Assisi. Infuriatingly, even deadweight predecessors like the Bush dynasty look competent. But Reagan? Along with millions of others in the 1980s, I was there at marches and demonstrations, noisily railing against hated neoliberal Raygun, his nuclear missiles, his utterly insane space force. Oh how we disdained him, this doddery warmonger, this huckleberry clown of a politician. It never occurred to us that 40 years on we’d be contemplating someone so much more clueless, so very much stupider, than Reagan.

None of my business, dear Americans, I know. You’re absolutely right. It’s not my country, it’s yours. You’re the ones pledging allegiance from sea to shining sea. I should butt out. And yet. All this used to be my business, back in the day when Potus was de facto leader of “the west” and led the forces of laissez-faire capitalism against the Evil Empire of Communism. “Ideology”, we used to call it. Man, we thought Reagan was the devil incarnate 40 years ago. Now the news is basically “Self-Satirising Human Cronut Yesterday On Twitter Said …”

As I write this letter of solidarity, I’m watching the televised presidential debate for election 1980, 40 years ago. Jimmy Carter the bruised defender, looking for a second term. Reagan the interloper, the disrupter, landing blow after blow on Carter – the failing economy, the Tehran hostages, the correct pronunciation of “nuclear”. Reagan was the older man but he sounded younger. What is frankly astonishing is the dignity of the debate itself. Here were political enemies – diametrically opposed on every issue – politely disagreeing, listening, yielding when time ran out. Basic human respect. And you stop and think – how is this normal, being nostalgic for normality itself?

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during a debate in 1980.
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during a debate in 1980. Photograph: The Ronald Reagan Presidential L/Reuters

Trump often invokes Ronald Reagan as an inspiration, and you can see how the analogy crosses his mind, like tumbleweed. Reagan too arrived at the White House from the world of entertainment. But Reagan had been governor of California for two terms. And president of a powerful union, the Screen Actors Guild. And served in the military. Reagan’s primary domestic objective of “getting government off the backs of the people” undoubtedly helped Trump the young shark-eyed entrepreneur – greedy to build, greedy for profit, greedy for tax credits.

Reagan consistently said that a free press was a prerequisite for a free country, and that it should hold presidents to account. Imagine that: a president inviting scrutiny. Trump dismisses any story he doesn’t like as “fake news” and deals only with Fox – his Pravda, his Tass. Unlike Trump, Reagan was self-aware enough to know his limitations. He surrounded himself with smart counsel and experts. Trump lives in a bubble of sycophancy.

Some of the stuff Trump’s pulling isn’t new, it’s just louder. You couldn’t imagine any of the other presidents not wanting America First. And like Trump, Reagan was an authoritarian who sent armed police in to break up civil protest. Reagan was indifferent to Aids; Trump is indifferent to Covid-19. More than 89,000 people died of Aids over seven years under Reagan administrations. Covid deaths in the US over seven months under Trump are 225,000 and rising …

In his foreign policy dealings, Reagan believed in statecraft, that ancient art of diplomacy now apparently lost in the murk of history. He saw his primary task as leading the world to peace and was prepared to sit down with cold war adversaries to thrash out a disarmament program. Does Trump even have a foreign policy, besides “screw you”? A resurrected Reagan would be aghast at Trump meeting Commie-In-Chief Kim Jong-un three times to discuss nuclear weapons with no tangible results.

Reagan’s statecraft did not hinge on whether the particular head of state “liked him”. Reagan’s preoccupation wasn’t self-aggrandisement. He sought world peace, and found gratification in good deeds. When his mind had gone, his memories lost, all knowledge of being President entirely faded, he remembered this: he had saved 77 people from drowning as a young lifeguard. That, in his shattered mind, was his legacy. In Trump’s bizarro world, drowners are losers.

Anyway, I’ll sign off. You have important stuff to do, like choosing a president. I wish you good luck; we’re all aware Kamala Harris is a result and a heartbeat from becoming America’s first female Potus. Things could be worse, no doubt. But they could also be better. The best to you and yours, my brothers and sisters.

I remain your most ardent admirer,

A Brit, Esq

Ian Martin is a comedy writer. His credits include Veep, The Death of Stalin, Avenue 5, The Thick of it and more

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Coronavirus live news: China reports highest infections in two months; US sees almost 500,000 cases in one week | World news




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Questions whirl, justice stifled as immunity laws protect US nursing homes

By noon on 16 September, more than 100 people had gathered at the end of the long drive that leads to the Menlo Park Veterans’ Memorial Home in New Jersey. Eighteen-inch letters – red, white, and blue – spelling “THANK YOU HEROES” were pushed into the sod beneath a semi-permanent sign that reads “Now accepting job applications” and “SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED”.

Staff members – mostly Black, mostly female – stood to the right of a podium. To the left stood family members holding framed photos of their loved ones, former residents of Menlo Park who had died over the past several hellish months, either in the facility or in a nearby hospital.

Gary White, the no-nonsense, cigar-chewing commandant of the local Marine Corp League – an 80-year-old federal organization and advocacy group for Marine veterans – organized the event. White told the crowd that Menlo Park’s residents had, as service members, “given America a blank check payable up to and including their lives,” but that during the pandemic, “veterans died who never should have.” A week before the protest, White had received calls and emails from family members who were shocked by their loved one’s deaths, who had never even been told their father or grandfather was sick.

“They asked me to do something,” he said:

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Ontario: Doug Ford refuses to demote caucus member photographed maskless | Canada




Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, has come under fire for refusing to demote a scofflaw member of his caucus who was photographed without a mask at a large indoor gathering – even as the regional government pleads with residents to follow public health rules during the pandemic.

Sam Oosterhoff, a parliamentary assistant to the province’s education minister, posted pictures online this weekend of a large group gathered in a banquet hall. None of the nearly 40 attendees were seen wearing masks or practicing physical distancing.

The photographs – and the evidence of a flagrant breach of the provincial government’s public health messaging – prompted outrage. Oosterhoff subsequently deleted the post and apologized for not wearing a mask. He also told reporters the event was in a region of Ontario where gatherings of up to 50 people indoors are still permitted. But health officials require masks and physical distancing while inside.

“He came out and apologized. Hey, guys, everyone makes mistakes,” Ford told reporters. “I’m a strong believer, you make a mistake, you go out and apologize and say it’s not going to happen again. I accept that.”

But a post late on Monday evening from the restaurant where the event was hosted told a different story.

“There was a group in last week, that has caused some concern,” Betty’s Restaurant wrote in a post on Facebook. “This group was reminded several times that they were required to wear masks when not seated at their table. Unfortunately they chose not to follow posted rules about wearing masks and distancing. We can remind guests but we cannot strong-arm them into following rules.”

The premier’s office reiterated its support for Oosterhoff on Tuesday.

But the photographs – and his support for Oosterhoff – put Ford in a difficult position as his government tries to tackle the second wave of the virus.

Canada’s most populous province logged more than 1,000 new cases in a single day on Sunday, and outbreaks are surging in long-term care homes, prompting fresh appeals for the public to follow health protocols.

Ford has admitted he is battling divisions within his government over how quickly to roll out new restrictions.

“I always say I gotta listen to the docs, I always will, and the science, but in saying that, I have to listen to the small business owners,” Ford said on Monday, adding he was trying to find a “happy balance”.

Opposition leader Andrew Horwath of the New Democratic party told reports on Monday that the premier’s messaging on public health measures has been “so inconsistent and so unclear” that Oosterhoff “literally posed for a photo where he violated public health guidelines”.

“So why is the premier’s own team challenging, and outright ignoring, his directions?”

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