Fine dining or neighbourhood eatery – fear among diners in Hong Kong of being exposed to the coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes, is keeping them from sitting down for a meal. Months of social unrest had already hurt business, with people avoiding districts at risk of clashes and tourists staying away from the city, but the new threat means even locals are keeping their distance. Wages and high rents coupled with a lack of demand inevitably squeeze profit margins and restaurant doors have been closing, either temporarily or in some cases, permanently. It is a sad state for a place renowned internationally for being a food paradise. The wide variety of cuisine, particularly Chinese, has long made Hong Kong a favourite destination for foodies. But no matter how tasty or complex the dishes, people understandably put their health and well-being first. Uncertainty about how the virus spreads has made diners reluctant to eat in often small restaurants, where tables are closely packed. Coupled with government recommendations that public gatherings be avoided and cases where hotpot and dim sum get-togethers have proved infectious affairs, people are heeding the advice and eating at home. For many in the industry, times have not been so hard, even during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003. Among the fine dining outlets to shut temporarily are John Anthony, Gaddi’s and Chesa, while iconic tourist attractions the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurants in Aberdeen Harbour have also closed until further notice. Shutting down for good are the two local franchises of Jamie’s Italian, a chain owned by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and Hunter & The Chase, Bibo and Root Central. Coronavirus could cost airlines US$113 billion in lost revenue, industry warns The experience is a sobering one for the industry and offers an opportunity to reflect. Some restaurateurs are using closures to renovate, in some cases to improve decor, menus and concept or at the most basic level, put more space between diners. The food and beverage sector is bound to bounce back, but there is uncertainty as to when. What is for sure is that no matter what the business, learning lessons and finding ways to improve benefit operators and customers alike.