London’s Arab eateries struggle to digest COVID-19 lockdown

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A shop selling Arabic sweets and groceries in London's Shepherd's Bush. (AN_Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Patchi restaurant and bakery have also introduced a sugar free baklava product range for diabetic people, who are more likely to be affected by the coronavirus. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Sweets on sale in Patchi restaurant and bakery in north-west London, where the coronavirus pandemic has put a big dent in food orders. (AN_Photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Patchi restaurant and bakery is now relying mainly on takeaways and home deliveries. (AN_photo/Sarah Glubb)
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The UK lockdown means families cannot visit restaurants and enjoy a meal outside with friends and loved ones. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
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The UK lockdown means families cannot visit restaurants and enjoy a meal outside with friends and loved ones. (AN photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Patchi restaurant and bakery is now relying mainly on takeaways and home deliveries. (AN_photo/Sarah Glubb)
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Updated 09 June 2020

London’s Arab eateries struggle to digest COVID-19 lockdown

  • Cafes, restaurants catering to capital’s Muslims find new ways to cope as virus curbs bite

LONDON: The UK capital’s bustling Arab heartland of Edgware Road is usually a hive of activity during Ramadan.
Dozens of restaurants work tirelessly serving iftar meals to streams of customers before, later in the evening, people gather in cafes to relax and smoke shisha.
This year, however, things could not be more different.

The UK’s lockdown to tackle COVID-19 means Muslims are unable to join family and friends at sunset to break their fast or go to mosques to pray. 
The shift in priorities has dealt a hammer blow to businesses that cater to London’s Muslim community.
Most shops on Edgware Road are closed, but those that remain open are finding new ways to cope during the pandemic, while attempting to continue their usual Ramadan services.




Patchi in north-west London has taken measures to keep shoppers apart as they arrive to buy Ramadan treats. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“We have a lot of change because of the coronavirus. Our business has come down, so we are only open for takeaways and we get about one customer every hour,” Jamil Souedain, chef at Al-Balad restaurant, told Arab News.
“It’s not like before. We closed for six weeks, and people are scared to come outside and talk to others. We are in a very bad situation,” he added.
The UK lockdown means families cannot visit restaurants and enjoy a meal outside with friends and loved ones.


Patchi, another popular Arab restaurant in northwest London, is now relying mainly on takeaways and home deliveries.
“We have expanded over the past few years,” Ziad Chamai, general manager at the restaurant and bakery, told Arab News.




Many businesses that would normally be serving food to Muslims this Ramadan are having to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“We opened a new restaurant section and we have a function room, which we hire out for special events such as weddings and birthdays — all of these just vanished overnight.”
The restaurant has added new products, and introduced takeaway boxes of sweets and Lebanese mezzes, grilled meat and shawarma.
“We had home orders, and in Ramadan the whole family comes together, but now they can’t do that,” Chamai said. “So even now, for home delivery, the size is small. But we are still trying to get the food and our products to customers to their homes.
“Yes, we’ve lost on the business side,” he said.




Sweets on sale in Patchi restaurant and bakery in north-west London, where the coronavirus pandemic has put a big dent in food orders.  (AN_Photo)

Restaurants have also been hit by the shutdown of offices, with most people in London working from home. Previously companies ordered iftar meals for Muslim employees, but not this year.
“We had a lot of businesses in the neighborhood ordering from us for all their special events, and iftar is usually a busy time — we get a lot of orders. Now all that has gone,” Chamai said.
Patchi’s bakery section is still serving Ramadan sweets to walk-in customers.
However, the shop’s entrances and exit have been altered to ensure a one-way system and customers must keep a set distance apart. Employees wear protective gear, including face masks and gloves, while hand sanitizer and masks are provided for customers.
Workers at another Arab supermarket in Shepherd’s Bush expressed similar sentiments.
“We are trying to serve as much as we can,” Yasser Abu Hajjia, an accountant at Damas Gate, said. “We want to make sure we have everything families need at the moment, especially rice and dates. So we guarantee these products are available for customers.”

Other businesses that would normally be thriving in the area during Ramadan also have ground to a halt due to the pandemic.
Abdelatif Samadi, who drives one of the capital’s iconic black taxis, said: “The coronavirus has pretty much decimated the business, finished it off, killed it. It is on hold until after the outbreak.”
Samadi said that even if there was work, the job is “risky” because he is exposed to people who might have the virus.
“So there is no point even thinking of working,” he said.
“At the moment it’s time off. It’s Ramadan, so I’m fasting and not working. I’m coming to buy food from the restaurant and go home,” he added.


France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Updated 14 July 2020

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.