Madrid restaurants fight wave of Omicron cancellations | The powerful 790 KFGO
By Javier Barbancho and Guillermo Martinez
MADRID (Reuters) – After nearly two years of COVID-19-induced uncertainty, bars and restaurants in Madrid were relying on strong bookings during the holiday season to bolster their finances, but the rising contagion has sparked a wave of last minute cancellations.
“We all thought… that we would be able to make money and pay a lot of stuff late,” said Juan Lozano, butler at La Querida restaurant in Madrid’s Pozuelo district, which was almost full in early December.
But the lightning-fast spread of the Omicron variant across Europe pushed Spain’s infection rate to record highs and decimated bookings, leaving just four of the two dozen La Querida booked on New Years day.
The 14-day infection rate was at a record 1,775 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, more than eight times that recorded a month earlier and against 890 at the previous peak in late January 2021.
Nevertheless, the occupancy rate of hospital beds was about a third of what was recorded at the end of January. There were 10,768 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, occupying 8.81% of total hospital capacity, almost triple the ratio a month ago. Intensive care units are 19.42% full, up from 7.76% on November 30, but down from 43% on January 30.
Unlike other Spanish regions, which have imposed capacity limits, mandatory COVID passes and even a curfew in Catalonia, Madrid has not introduced any restrictions on dining out and socializing. But restaurants are still feeling the pinch.
“The outlook is horribly bad,” Lozano said, insisting that the government needs more support for the sector. He complained that the subsidized loans guaranteed by the state were not enough.
“People say ‘can’t you get government credit?’ Yeah, but it’s a debt I have to pay off, isn’t it?
Industry organization Hosteleria Madrid estimates that half of all December bookings in the region were canceled, causing losses of around 350 million euros ($ 396 million).
Across town at Asador Extremeno, a traditional grilled meat restaurant by the Manzanares River, chef Miguel Campos complained that patrons had almost dried up as he placed a huge chunk of beef on the grill.
“We have a terrace and in the open air people have more confidence … thank goodness for the beautiful weather which allows us to work a little,” he said.
(Written by Nathan Allen, additional reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Andrei Khalip, William Maclean)