This is around the time of year when journalists fill their columns with predictions about what the new year will bring. I could do that, but it would be too depressing. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t going to be over any time soon, just because the calendar year ticks over from 2020 to 2021 (or from the Year of the Rat to the Year of the Ox). Even with the promise of the various vaccines (assuming you can get them in whichever country you live in), it’s going to take months before everyone will receive the shot that is supposed to protect us from the virus. And because it’s so new, nobody knows how long the vaccine will be effective. I don’t think any of us expected 2020 to be this bad, even after we’d heard warnings in early January of a mysterious illness in China that was making its way to Hong Kong and other countries. On alert, due to our experience with Sars in 2003 (which, as it turns out, killed far fewer people than Covid-19), Hong Kong people started wearing masks quite early on. I remember vividly the first day I wore my mask: it was January 24, on the evening before the start of Chinese New Year. And I haven’t stopped since, except during the times when I ran out of face masks and they couldn’t be found in shops. It’s been almost a full year of wearing masks. Between then and now, Hong Kong has had four waves of the virus; the current one – the worst yet – is the most enduring, and the number of new daily cases is not declining. Hong Kong’s new niche restaurants step up as bigger ones go bust Because of the many restrictions in place to stop the spread of the virus, the restaurant scene changes so often and so quickly that back in April, I stopped writing food reviews, spurred, in part, because a restaurant I had visited on a Saturday closed by the following Tuesday. It was impossible to predict if a restaurant would still be open by the time the review came out. How many restaurants have closed due to the pandemic? How many food and beverage professionals have lost their jobs? I can’t find the numbers anywhere (is any government office keeping track? Do they actually care?), but walk down any block in any neighbourhood of Hong Kong and you’re sure to see boarded up shopfronts and “For Rent” signs. And how many more restaurants will close in the coming months? Optimists (of which I am usually one) might say that they just have to hold out a little longer, that because of the vaccine, the end is in sight. But in the food and beverage business, survival isn’t just a matter of endurance, of being able to hold your breath longer, or being able to run just a little further. Survival comes from being able to pay rent to the landlord, pay your staff for their work, pay the utility companies and food suppliers for services rendered. For many restaurateurs, the money is running out, and nobody is going to throw them a lifeline. So predictions about next year? It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know. Happy holidays, everyone. I hope to see you all next year.