IT was lunchtime and the canteen of a company in Beijing was almost full with employees. But the place was eerily quiet.
Diners sat facing only one direction and were hastily putting food into their mouths. They didn’t talk to their colleagues at all.
This scenario is common at company canteens in China as they took extra preventive measures to cut the spread of Covid-19.
“My company has implemented a policy for us not to speak in the canteen because everyone has to remove their masks while eating.
“We are asked to reduce the dining time and keep our distance from other workmates, ” said an employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, in the Chinese capital.
He added that all of them practised the “classroom seating” method and faced just one direction to avoid any “possible incidents”, including sudden sneezing or coughing.
A factory worker from Henan province, who also requested for his identity to be withheld, said they must stand at least 1m away from each other while queuing up for food at the canteen. (Viruses can travel as far as 2m in droplets when a person sneezes or coughs.)
“We have lunch in batches, one person per table and the tables have been rearranged and placed more than 2m apart.
“All the plates, bowls and utensils have also been changed to disposable ones, ” she said.
Some canteens have also set up partitions around the tables that made the diners look like they were casting their votes.
A newsman of a TV station said his company did not allow them to eat at the canteens.
“We have a few canteens. Before the outbreak, we could just walk in and choose our food but now, all the food is pre-packed.
“So we just take one and eat at our own place, ” he said.
The no dine-in policy was also applied to restaurants in many cities nationwide including Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Dalian and Hainan island.
In Beijing, although the policy was not in place, most eateries, including international coffee chains, only allowed takeaway services.
Outlets which allowed customers to dine in have advised them to sit alone or limit the number to five guests per table.
Delivery riders or those who requested for takeaway food are not allowed to enter the premises.
I was at a fast food outlet last Thursday and saw a group of four youngsters, believed to be colleagues, occupying one table each.
They chose a row of four tables so that they could chit-chat while enjoying their lunch.
There were more than 20 people at the premises but only three brave souls shared a table.
Since the outbreak, Chinese nationals residing overseas have chipped in to show support for their fellow citizens and homeland.
One of them was Ye Xiying, a nonagenarian living in San Francisco.
A website designated for overseas Chinese, chinaqw.com, reported that the 98-year-old forked out US$100 (RM415) when she found out the local Chinese community was collecting funds for Wuhan city – the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“This is my little help, hope the people can pull through these difficult times soon, ” she said while taking out the dollar note from her shirt pocket and passing it to her daughter-in-law Liu Shali.
That was the last thing she did for her beloved country. She died the following day.
Ye learnt about the outbreak from television news.
At a gathering on the first day of Chinese New Year, her family members and friends discussed how they could help China.
The nonagenarian heard them mentioning donations and insisted that she had to do something.
“I saw on TV, it is very bad and there is a serious shortage of medical supplies, I also chip in a little bit to help, ” Liu’s brother recalled what Ye told them that day.
Ye’s story has touched many people in China.
“A donation of US$100 may not help much, it consists of her love and care for the country, this is enough to melt many hearts, ” wrote Zeng Xiaowei, author of the article.
Life is slowly returning to normal on the mainland.
Minor traffic jams were reported in some places, including Beijing, since last week, and city folk, who used to have tonnes of complaints about the congestion, were cheering this time.
“I have been stuck in the jam for 45 minutes and this is my happiest moment in 2020, ” wrote an Internet user.
Another person wrote that he would never complain about the time-consuming journey any more in the future because traffic congestion signifies peace and prosperity.
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