The coronavirus outbreak is set to rob retailers of all the romance on Valentine’s Day today in China. According to analysts from OC&C Strategy Consulting, the outbreak will lead to “markedly different behaviour” among consumers in Mainland China and Hong Kong.
“We anticipate a continuing surge in online grocery shopping, and a drop in traditional grocery, as has already been widely reported by Chinese e-commerce players and observers,” the firm said.
Online retailers and delivery services are most hit, especially on the mainland where tens of thousands of retail stores and restaurants are closed either on local government orders or due to negligible demand as consumers stay at home to avoid contact with other people.
Shanghai restaurant owner Bill Hu finds himself unusually free. The lights are out, his French fine dining spot in a high-end mall in China’s commercial hub, with wine glasses stacked up and the kitchen silent, save for two employees tasked with disinfection duties.
“The number of reservations this year is almost zero,” said Hu, when asked about preparations for the festival popular with many in China’s cities, a time when he is usually busy with plans for special menus and reservation bookings.
“This virus epidemic came all of a sudden,” added Hu, who said his restaurant had about 170 customers last Valentine’s Day. “Many customers who had made reservations all called in to cancel.”
His is just one of many businesses reeling from the impact of a COVID-19 outbreak that spurred harsh travel curbs across China, with authorities encouraging people to stay home, leaving large cities looking like ghost towns.
The past few weeks had been “brutal”, said Austin Hu, the chef at Heritage by Madison, a high-end restaurant nestled by the river on Shanghai’s famed Bund.
“Valentine’s Day is kind of sad so far, we have one booking at the moment,” he added. “It’s going to take a while for the confidence to come back. “The real question is whether we can last long enough.”
The outbreak has taken a growing toll as curbs adopted before the Lunar New Year holiday, a high season for tourism and hospitality, continue after city authorities extended the holiday to beat the virus and set Feb. 10 for work to resume.
Some restaurants are trying to make up by offering meal deliveries, but others are struggling with shortage of staff.
And some potential customers say they are simply not in the mood to celebrate. “I am not going to risk my life going out for a meal,” said Dina Li, who scrapped the idea of dining out with her husband this year to avoid contagion, despite 10 days spent at home.
Earlier, a scientist had warned that people should avoid hugging and kissing in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Prof. John Oxford, from Queen Mary University, said people could protect themselves from the deadly bug by employing a bit of ‘British standoffishness’. The virus has killed more than 1,100 people, all but two of whom are in China, and struck down almost 46,000 worldwide.
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