Beloved communal hotpot falls victim to Hong Kong virus fears

AFP
Hotpot has become the latest casualty of the coronavirus outbreak after 10 members of a family in Hong Kong became infected after sharing the dish.
AFP
Beloved communal hotpot falls victim to Hong Kong virus fears
AFP

In this photo taken on February 11, 2020, a group of friends share a laugh as they eat together at 66 Hotpot, a family-run restaurant in the bustling district of Mongkok in Hong Kong.

Hotpot has become the latest casualty of the coronavirus outbreak after 10 members of a family in Hong Kong became infected after sharing the dish, a much loved favorite during winter.

Comprised of a vat of soup at the center of a table, hotpot is a deeply communal dish.

Those enjoying it dip a variety of meats, seafood and vegetables into the bubbling broth which becomes more intense as the meal progresses.

But health experts have sounded warnings after a cluster of coronavirus cases were discovered in one Hong Kong family who all shared a hotpot with a carrier from China's mainland over the Lunar New Year holiday.

As the 10th positive case was confirmed within the family on Monday, stocks for large hotpot companies with restaurants in Hong Kong and China's mainland plunged.

Xiabuxiabu closed down 7.1 percent, Haidilao ended 4.8 lower while Yihai International, which makes seasonings and sauces for hotpot, dropped 2.7 percent.

In Hong Kong, major restaurant chains including Fairwood, Cafe de Coral, Yoshinoya and Maxim's announced they were temporarily pulling hotpot from their menus.

Maxim's also confirmed that two of the infected family members from the hotpot cluster worked in two of their branches, which would be closed for disinfecting.

Haidilao, China's largest hotpot chain, has already closed all its branches on the mainland, where the virus outbreak has killed more than 1,000 people.

It said it would not close its Hong Kong branches but would start checking the temperatures of patrons.

Sam Wong, who owns 66 Hotpot, a family-run restaurant in the bustling district of Mongkok, said some 20 customers have canceled bookings since the news of the family cluster emerged.

"I don't think the focus should be placed specifically on hotpot considering the habit among Chinese people of communally sharing food," Wong, 39, told AFP.

"But given hotpot is part of this cluster infection case, our business can't help but be affected," he added.

Wong said he was conducting thermometer checks on all customers, had placed disinfectant soaked floor mats at his restaurant entrance and was replacing reusable chopsticks with disposable ones.

Emily Mok, a flight attendant, came to Wong's restaurant before it opened on Monday evening and ordered a hotpot for take-away.

"My boyfriend and I will have hotpot at home because we don't want to consume it in a restaurant, where we don't know who is sitting next to us," she said.

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