South Africa reopens restaurants even as virus cases rise

South Africa reopens restaurants even as virus cases rise

“I am breathing again,” sighs Kanto Razafimandimby, on her first night out since South Africa reopened its restaurants and casinos as part of a gradual loosening of lockdown, even as the number of coronavirus continues to rise.

“It really feels like my freedom is back,” said the 27-year-old dining with three friends at Verdicchio Restaurant and Wine Cellar in northern Johannesburg suburb of Fourways.

Saturday marked the 100th day of lockdown for South Africa, which has imposed some of the strictest stay-at-home measures in the world since March 27 in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the number of infections is rising daily by the thousands and the country now has the highest number of cases on the continent – 177,124, including 2,952 deaths.

Restaurants and casinos have been allowed to reopen since Monday as part of a phased and gradual relaxation of the restrictions.

But business remains slow five days on, picking up to just about 25 percent of pre-lockdown levels for some restaurants at Johannesburg’s premier entertainment and gaming center, Montecasino.

With infections rising, many potential guests remain cautious, and an ongoing ban on serving alcohol with meals also means some diners are staying away, at least for now.

Montecasino’s chief operating officer Mike Page had initially been worried that the complex would be overwhelmed by a massive surge in the number of customers.

“Thankfully, it has been a slow and steady uptick of business,” he says.

“On the casino floor itself, there are wet wipes, sanitizers… we are covering points of touch with plastic to allow easy wiping off.”

Restaurants have similarly upped their hygiene game: tables are disinfected before and after every client, while staff constantly sanitize themselves.

“We are trying (our) best to make sure that (customers) feel safe when they come and dine out with us,” says Verdicchio Restaurant’s manager Deran Els.