My COVID-19 Newsletter

Looking back and evaluating

I started my COVID-19 Newsletter about two months ago, first article was “Virusland is back“, dated 30 January 2020.
Since then I have been posting nearly every day.
Preparing the newsletter has demanded lots of work, and was time-consuming.

My sources were international TV (I watch a lot every day), SCMP, China Daily, NYT, KNACK/TRENDS, De Standaard, Het Laatste Nieuws, Caixin, and many other such as daily newsletters from various sources such as AXION and Sinocism.
I did not intend to be a “news channel” covering everything. The idea was to focus on what has been affecting us in China, how we were dealing with quarantine and lockdown, and the impact of the virus worldwide.
I also tried to double-check sources and give a balanced view while avoiding some sensitive topics that might affect my residence status in Beijing.

I closely monitored the views I get on my different media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and others. I also closely followed the hits on this website, that also reveal how people reach my website. Many people on media such as LinkedIn don’t bother to read the article but start commenting. Oh well!
Overall I feel disappointed by the numbers. I don’t show them here but you can comment on how many hits would be nice in your opinion. (Nobody will give feedback anyway!)
One indication: the very few (valid) comments I receive.
It is also clear for me that the people close to me (and the ones I value) hardly ever visit this website.
Yes, quite frustrating.

Websites: a bygone era?

I feel that overall, people have become very superficial and have a very short attention span. Digging a bit deeper in issues is pretty rare. People seems to love very short news clips and rather love fake or sensational news. But you find a lot of “strong opinions”, based on hot air.

It is also very disturbing to see how world leaders such as Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and some others drag their countries deeper and deeper into the abyss. Worst, they have followers who remain blind for facts and with whom it is a waste of time to argue. For them, the earth is flat. It shows how our Western democracies are imploding.

Foreign governments and embassies

You can wonder, especially recently, what embassies and representatives of foreign governments bring to the community.
Many embassies seem oblivious to their nationals in the country, hardly ever send out notices except to refer to the websites of their home ministry. How many keep their nationals informed and show interest in solving their problems?
Many embassy staff have no access to external websites. You can wonder how they can stay well-informed. You also wonder what they are actually doing. Have a problem? Please register your case online. Anyway most of the worries of their nationals “are not their responsibility and not in their scope of work”.

All of course depends on the big boss – the ambassador. In my 40 years here I have seen very different attitudes. Creativity, flexibility and initiative are often absent. Of course there are always exceptions. More than often, their work is made more difficult by the instructions and limitations they receive from their foreign ministry. In the past I did receive invaluable assistance from my Belgian embassy (and others). I accept their job has become more difficult by the short-sighted governments, and budget cuts.

Why am I doing this?

A good question that I often asked myself. Those who read my newsletter can agree I have no commercial interests to promote. As for my consulting company, we do not look for clients and we are very choosy.

One aspect I can mention is the promotion of my two books. Here again I see my closest contacts being of little help, if any, to help promote my books, or buying them (kidding, right!). The e-books are actually pretty cheap.
As a reminder, here they are:
“LAUGH AND GET WISER! Jokes and witty wisdom for adults”
The Kindle version:
“Toxic Capitalism – The orgy of consumerism and waste: Are we the last generation on earth?”

The impact of my newsletter in this respect has been close to zero. Very disappointing. This is how you know who your friends are, while I am (or better, was) always too ready to help others.

Trying to help EU countries

Through one of my positions with the Chinese government I was asked to help donate 1,000 test kits to some European countries. The test kits are of a very advanced, we can say, revolutionary design. They offer a COVID-19 test in 5 minutes without using a laboratory. Done on the spot. The kits have all certificates including CE (from The Netherlands) and I have the detailed documentation.

The idea was to donate (officially) to the embassy who would then decide with their government to use it in hospitals, research centers or any health organization interested to test the technology.
Oh well, red tape, inaction, zero response. And oh! Gosh, politics with the Chinese government! Can we do this? (BUT! Welcome Jack Ma! He brings business!)
I have now canceled the offer. Time was the essence but as it stands EU governments have been turtle-like to react. Learn from China!
Anybody interested, contact me. I do not have any business interest in this. I thought I could help…

Too bad, not a surprise that EU countries are hopelessly behind in tackling the outbreak, don’t have masks while they were warned two months in advance. Then they find some millions of masks rotten in a military warehouse.
If one tries to mail masks to family in Europe, good luck. Red tape (WE NEED CE!!!!!) and total lack of cooperation from customs (not to mention embassies) make it virtually impossible.
Remember when Chinese bought ALL masks around the world and shipped them to China? Chinese customs had special procedures to let them in.
Poor EU.

In short, bye. No more COVID-19 stuff

And don’t bother to ask me how are things over here in Beijing. Ask your embassy.
We will watch from Beijing how you all cope (?) to put in place logistics, equipment, health care workers, fail to use masks when needed (= as we do over here for a good reason), implement lockdown, …

Yeah interesting to look how crazy/idiotic people are. Keep hoarding! Buy toilet paper (they shit a lot!!!). And if you ever come to Beijing, your zero star hotel welcomes you in Xiaotangshan (now refurbished after its operation for SARS). And behave in the lift (elevator for others).
Yep, my last little humor (much more in earlier posts).
Meanwhile I will enjoy more great Belgian cuisine in Morel’s Restaurant.

RIP Old China Hand

Our Beijing little club

Calm down folks. RIP Old China Hand applies to a Hong Kong bar, not our little club, Yes, our last lunch was in January, see the report.
Obviously February, March and probably April is cancelled in view of COVID-19.

RIP Old China Hand (now for real)

That applies to a bar in Hong Kong, I learned about it through one of little club members who sent me a pic of the closed bar.
So I did some research and found out it was a well-known bar in Hongkong, been there for decades, it had to move once (guess why, increase in rent, as always).

Read here:
In 2015 The Old China Hand, one of the most famous pubs in Wan Chai, has been suddenly cleared out and had its sign removed. A veteran 45-year tenant of Lockhart Road, the bar appears to have shut down.

It later moved but it seems to be closed again.
They even had a Facebook page, stopped now.

Last location would be: 1C Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
The pics: I tried to identify the two different locations, Lockhart Road and Kennedy Town. See the names.
Sad! did not know about it earlier – I also lived in Hong Kong, in 1989, for one year.

Back to Morel Restaurant

Making all Europeans (and others) jealous

Yesterday Sunday evening I headed again back to Morel Restaurant, to have dinner with friend and with the owners Renaat and Susan.
Was great to be “back to normal” a bit, after all those weeks.
As I had said: yes I went for the “steak tartare” (half portion) that is actually what we call in Belgium “filet américain”. It is indeed different because the mincemeat is chopped to perfection, the tartare has bigger pieces of meat.
Other dishes you see: veal sausage, gratinated mussels and the hearty soup.

And yes we had plenty of great French red wine. For lunch at home, another Keto diet friendly dish

Take away – home delivery

In Beijing there are a couple of websites where you can order any food you imagine. Swiftly delivered by the army of “kuaidis”, the delivery boys on their (mostly) electric bikes.
To help foreigners who cannot navigate the Chinese websites, the restaurant has now started a menu in English and clients can order by phone, best with WeChat that allows them to give the address and pay. You pay the delivery boy separately.

I tried the delivery service, The soup comes piping hot, all dishes at the right temperature and very well packed.
Prices are currently reduced, so,… Don’t wait!

COVID-19 is all over the news


In most European countries COVID-19 is all over the news.

Situation in EU on 1 March (De Standaard) – comparing outbreaks

The European headquarter of Nike in Hilversum (Holland) has been closed for disinfection, after a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19. About 2,000 people work there.

The commune Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe in Brussels prohibits access for 14 days for people  arriving from risk regions such as China, Thailand, Hongkong, Macao, Singapore, South Korea, Iran and the affected regions in Italy.

The secret why Belgium is spared of the virus! (so many ministers of health)

The Belgian minister of Health Maggie De Block called the measures “totally disproportional and for political activism”.

Plane from Moscow in quarantine

Read: “400 Quarantined from Inbound Flight, Including Around 20 Foreigners”
Michael Wester TheBeijinger 1 March 2020
Approximately 400 passengers – including around 20 foreigners – who arrived in Beijing from Moscow yesterday are now in quarantine after one was discovered to be suffering from COVID-19, according to Chinese news reports and two foreigners who were on the flight.

Passengers on Aeroflot Flight 204 landed at Beijing Capital International Airport yesterday morning and are now spending the next 14 days in quarantine as a consequence of potential exposure to the one passenger who tested positive.
The passenger, a Chinese national returning from Iran, was one of two that turned up on Beijing’s list of new infections yesterday, Chinese media reports. Of Beijing’s 413 infections found so far, these are the first directly attributed to people flying in from overseas.

In this morning’s daily press conference on the outbreak, we learned that both the new infected people were Chinese travelers returning to China from business trips to Iran, where they attended at least one gathering together on Feb 18.
After disembarking from the plane, she said the 20 or so foreigners were segregated and sent to one hotel, the five-star Hotel Maxmelin, north of the North Fifth Ring Road. She is not aware where the Chinese passengers were taken for quarantine.
Read the full article:

“12 China F&B Insiders Assess the Coronavirus Crisis Impact”

ThatsBeijing – Matthew Bossons – 1 March 2020
As many overseas might not be able to open the link, see most of the article here.

In an article published on February 4, the Economist declared that “optimism has crumbled” in regards to the Chinese economy, a direct result of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The declaration should be unquestionably worrisome for anyone living and working in China. It’s particularly distressing when you consider that less than a month ago, China-based producers, retailers and those in other industries were celebrating the announcement that US President Donald Trump and China’s Vice Premier Liu had signed the first phase of a trade deal.

But that was two month and a half week ago, before the novel coronavirus began dominating headlines around the globe.
The outbreak of a deadly disease is just one of countless reasons for society to turn pessimistic about an economy, but the results are nonetheless the same: lack of investment from businesses, a stock market sell-off and a drop in consumer spending, among other consequences.

Travel restrictions, both government-imposed and airline-led, along with local disease control and prevention measures, have hampered a variety of business sectors in China, with the hospitality and food and beverage industries being hit particularly hard.
Across the country, hotels have temporarily closed their doors, while countless other hospitality venues have cut staff and canceled upcoming events to cope with the sharp drop in occupancy rates.
Restaurants, pubs and cafes in many Chinese cities have also been forced to temporarily cease operations to comply with government measures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

 “It has had a severe impact on business, with many local customers fearing to be out in public,” one of the proprietors of Hooley’s Irish Pub in Guangzhou told us earlier this week. “There really isn’t a whole lot we can do at this point to mitigate the damage. We have limited opening hours, but we still must pay our staff their monthly salaries. We will attempt to get some rent relief.”

While it was no secret that F&B establishments were going to suffer from forced closures and a frightened populace, the response of the Hooley’s owner we spoke to got us thinking: How are other bars and restaurants in China holding up amid the coronavirus outbreak? And, perhaps more importantly, what do F&B insiders predict will be the long-term impact of the current situation?

To answer these questions, we spoke with 12 F&B veterans from across China to get their insight. The result: a series of articles we have dubbed the Appetite for Destruction series.
Without saying too much (we’ll let you read their responses below), we noticed several similarities between respondents’ answers: There are numerous comparisons to SARS, unanimous agreement that some F&B venues will be forced to close and a cautious optimism that things will be back to normal in the not-so-distant future.

Click on the links below to get insider insight on the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on China’s F&B industry (you need to go to the original online article):

  • ‘Great Businesses Will Shutter’ Due to Coronavirus: Shenzhen’s Cadence Gao
  • Shanghai F&B Scene in ‘Hibernation’ Due to Coronavirus: Logan R. Brouse
  • Coronavirus Like a ‘Nuclear Strike’ on China F&B: Johnny Ding
  • Chase Williams on Devastating Impact of Coronavirus on Shanghai F&B
  • Beijing F&B Could Take 6 Months to Recover from Coronavirus: Ignace Lecleir (read below)
  • Restaurants Were Packed Again Once SARS Was Over: Michelle Garnaut
  • Rob Turnbull Talks Coronavirus Impact on Guangzhou’s F&B Industry
  • Government Should Offer Support Amid Coronavirus Crisis: Tedd Park
  • Tristan Sapp on How Coronavirus is Hurting F&B in the Greater Bay Area
  • Big Spending Followed SARS, Stay Optimistic: Guangzhou’s Wayne Shen
  • Trusted Locations Will Recover Fastest After Coronavirus: Cong Huanhuan

Beijing F&B Could Take 6 Months to Recover: Ignace Lecleir

ThatsBeijing – Matthew Bossons (no easy direct link)
Ignace Lecleir – Beijing, Owner and Founder of TRB Hospitality Group
Originally from Brugge, Belgium, Ignace Leclair has been working in the hospitality industry for a very, very long time. He moved to Beijing in 2007 and now runs the TRB Hospitality Group, which consists of four restaurants: TRB Hutong, TRB Forbidden City, Hulu by TRB and Merci French Food TRB. Below, Leclair shares his thoughts on the impact the novel coronavirus is having on Beijing’s F&B scene:

How has the current situation impacted your businesses?
The impact has been severe. I have had to temporarily close all of the TRB outlets except for Hulu by TRB at Taikooli, which is running a low occupancy at the moment.

What measures have your businesses taken to mitigate the damage caused by the prolonged CNY holiday and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak?
I launched Hulu Delivery on Wednesday, February 6. From A to Z, the entire process is done by the Hulu team, including delivery to ensure safety and quality. As the demand for delivery is growing significantly during this period of time, I am trying my best to supply and help local communities and customers as much as possible.

More generally, how has the outbreak impacted the F&B industry in Beijing, based on your observations?
From the conversations I’ve had so far with peers and colleagues from the F&B industry in Beijing, many restaurants are facing the same difficult situation that we are at the moment.

How long do you think it will take for the F&B business in Beijing to recover from this crisis?
Hopefully I am wrong, but my assumption is that it’s likely to take from three to six months until the market is recovered.

What could be the possible positive outcomes of this disease outbreak for Beijing’s F&B community going forward?
[This] obstacle definitely forces us to think outside of the box and find new solutions every day. It enables businesses to grow and become wiser and stronger.

Note: Morel’s Restaurant remains closed, no opening date decided yet.

NCP is undermining the economy

Severe impact

Most people do not realize the enormous impact and chain reaction. The NCP is undermining the economy, in China but also in the world. (NCP, previously called 2019nCoV)
If the epidemic can be under control and restrictions lifted by 1 April, that would be SUPER.
I am afraid that is too optimistic.
As for seminars, conferences, trade fairs, parties, big balls, and all: don’t count on it anytime soon.
Draw your own conclusions.
What I most fear: panic, social instability, paranoia, hysteria, overreaction, exaggerated restrictions, name it.

Eating at home, happy! TRUVAL: The Belgische FruitVeiling (BFV) is a cooperative of fruit growers, established in Sint-Truiden. Truval was chosen as the new name for the quality brand.
As for now, I stay in Beijing. Though I feel it’s worse than SARS when I was also here. I hope I can say, “I was wrong. All is well!.”

Supply chain affected

Already some factories outside of China have to stop production because the components they need from China are not arriving. Slowly those buyers will look for other suppliers, even unwillingly.
The same will apply to many export items such as consumer products. The problems that surfaced with the USA-China trade war will just get worse. Yes, few countries can compete with the efficiency and price levels of the Chinese supply chain but there are limits…

Foreigners and students

Many foreigners decided to go away or stay away because of the draconian restrictions and the fear to get sick. Then China will suddenly realize those annoying foreigners do contribute to the economy.
The education sector is already suffering, schools and universities to remain closed till 1 March (at least). That is not a big issue somehow but foreign families might get second thoughts of returning.

The service sector

Restaurants are forced to close. If they want to open, draconian measures. Max 3 people on one table. Distance between tables 2 m. Waiters to remain at safe distance to take orders. Restaurants cannot get their supplies, are prohibited access to their warehouses. As nearly all service staff is from outside Beijing, many can’t come back or are not (immediately) allowed to work. Or, they are afraid to go to work. So most won’t get any payment as most Chinese companies ignore the “laws”.
Want someone to repair the air conditioner, fridge, or do house repairs? Most are barred from working and/or barred from your compound.

Monday 10 February

China was supposed to get back to work on Monday but it was very, very subdued. Many companies and shops remain closed. Some of my favorite restaurants won’t open.
Morel’s Restaurant decided on Monday not to proceed with the opening and to wait at least one more week. Main reason: grocery deliveries as good as impossible due to often unreasonable bureaucracy and restrictions.

Renaat: we remain closed!
Legend Beer ordered not to open as “they receive too many guests”. Reopening date not clear, could be one or two weeks later, nobody knows.
Some restaurants continue to operate, such as Niajo, Hulu TRB (both in Sanlitun) and Caravan (Guanghua Lu), many focusing on home deliveries. But one must pick it up at the gate as deliveries cannot enter.

Is Beijing under lockdown?

I would say not really, certainly not like Wuhan.
But some restrictions are pretty draconian, no non-Beijing cars allowed, many compounds refuse visitors, some buildings under lockdown, access to many parts of the city (especially for transport of goods) seriously disrupted. But airport and railway stations are still open, however long-distance buses are stopped.
Smaller cities often impose meaningless house quarantines, even for people returning from overseas or from Beijing. Many of those restrictions are illegal says the central government…

Contamination issues

Chinese authorities announced on Monday that aerosol and fecal routes of infection remain unconfirmed.
Calls are now stronger to eliminate wildlife trade as China confirms the virus came from pangolins and bats as reported earlier.
All as reported in China Daily on 10 February.

“Ten days wait for the operation” “In China ten days to build a hospital”.

WHO is increasingly worried the virus could spread worldwide by people who never set foot in China. They said, maybe we have seen only the tip of the iceberg…
But compare: the lockdown of Wuhan alone equals the lockdown of entire Belgium. Imagine…

So what now?

The millions of Chinese in Wuhan and surrounding areas confined to their homes during the coronavirus outbreak have turned to the internet to alleviate boredom and do their work from home, boosting the fortunes of tech companies that offer services like mobile games, work conferencing and online health services.
While nobody knows how and when the health crisis will end, the business and tech landscape is likely to change by the time the crisis is over, creating a new set of winners and losers in China’s increasingly digitalized economy.