As COVID-19 cases exponentially increase in the U.S. and Western Europe, leaders impose rules on restaurants and bars in effort to decrease infection rates
Across the United States and Western Europe this past weekend, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to grow, spurring leaders to impose new restrictions to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Less than a week after Italy’s government shut down almost all schools and businesses, asking citizens to self-quarantine, France and Spain followed suit.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, and state and local leaders took aggressive steps to prevent large gatherings that could spread the disease. On March 15, California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked restaurants to trim occupancy by 50 percent and requested that bars and winery tasting rooms and event spaces close their doors for now. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would order all bars to close and restaurants to limit business to takeout and delivery, and Washington’s governor followed suit shortly afterwards, annoucing he would order restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities to close as well.
As of March 15, there were more than 169,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including 24,757 in Italy, 7,844 in Spain, 5,437 in France and 3,734 in the U.S. There have been 6,512 confirmed deaths.
France’s government ordered most businesses to close March 14. Groceries, pharmacies and gas stations were exempted; restaurants and bars were not. Officials had asked people to stay indoors a few days earlier, but warm weather brought thousands to Paris parks on Saturday. “We are just at the beginning of this crisis,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation. “In spite of all our efforts to break it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate.”
Bordeaux vintners had already been dealing with the cancellation of their annual en primeur tastings. Now the region is turning all visitors away. “Our family, who is proud to be ambassador of l’art de vivre à la française, is seriously impacted,” said Florence Cathiard, co-owner of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and several other wineries. “Hotel, restaurants and spa closed, [wine] boutique closed. Only the people in the vineyard and in the cellars are working.”
The situation is similar in Spain. Just a few hours before France’s lockdown went into effect, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez imposed tight movement restrictions on his 47 million citizens as part of a 15-day state of emergency. All schools, universities, restaurants, bars and hotels have been closed, along with non-essential stores. Spain now has the fifth-highest number of confirmed cases.
Flattening the curve
In the U.S., state leaders are imposing similar restrictions. Health experts are encouraging social distancing to protect people, slow the spread of the virus and reduce the stress on the health care system. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order closing all bars and restaurants in the state at 9 p.m. on March 15. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his state would follow suit at the end of Monday.
In Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts both announced that they would close their casinos and hotels for at least two weeks starting March 17.
In New York, Mayor de Blasio had originally encouraged restaurants and bars to limit occupancy by 50 percent, but changed course late on March 15 and ordered all to close, permitting only takeout and delivery from March 17 on. “Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago,” he said in a statement. “We are taking a series of actions that we never would have taken otherwise in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbors.”
An hour after de Blasio’s announcement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he would sign a proclamation on March 16 shutting down all bars, restaurants and “entertainment and recreational facilities.” Restaurants will be able to offer delivery and takeout.
Newsom’s announcement on the same day was not an order, but a request. He called on older Californians to stay home if possible, asked restaurants to cut occupancy in half and requested that bars, breweries, winery tasting rooms and winery event spaces close. As of Sunday night, some wineries had already begun notifying their customers of the closures while encouraging them to take advantage of their retail sales and wine club pickups.
While restaurants and wineries face uncertain times and lost business, several wine retailers have reported an uptick in sales as people self-quarantine and face the prospect of weeks with their kids out of school. In New Orleans, where schools are closed and city officials have cancelled all festivals and imposed restricted hours on restaurants and bars, Mayor LaToya Cantrell made clear that wine is still for sale.
“Let me tell you what we are not doing,” Cantrell said during a joint press conference with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. “We are not limiting the sale of alcohol. That was something that seems to have been misconstrued based on the declaration that was made yesterday.”
—with reporting by Robert Camuto and Augustus Weed