SHENYANG, March 22 (Xinhua) -- At lunchtime, masked diners have their temperatures checked and hands disinfected before entering a restaurant and sitting at separate tables to fulfill their appetites after being cooped up at home for months.
Zhang Bo, a citizen of Shenyang in northeast China's Liaoning Province, ventured back into a restaurant in a local business hub. "As the novel coronavirus outbreak in China becomes more subdued, I had a satisfying meal in a restaurant the first time in two months," he said.
Around 50 percent of restaurants in Liaoning have resumed normal operation, though the number of restaurant goers only stood at 40 percent of the figure in the same period of normal years, according to the provincial commerce department.
Catering business is among a number of industries hardest hit by the unexpected outbreak, as the efforts to curb the spread of epidemic kept most people across China indoors and forced restaurants to cease dine-in service.
Revenues of the catering sector reached 419.4 billion yuan (around 59 billion U.S. dollars) in the first two months of this year, down 43.1 percent from the same period last year, said the National Bureau of Statistics.
As the situation has improved in China, restaurants are beginning to restore their dine-in service while carrying out strict epidemic prevention measures.
Last week, northwest China's Gansu Province asked its catering enterprises to resume business, while requiring restaurant goers to measure temperatures and maintain a distance of no less than 1 meter in queues and banning dinner party with over 50 guests.
In Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, a total of 1,074 accommodation and catering enterprises had resumed business by Friday, accounting for 92.4 percent of the total, according to the city's commerce bureau.
"We mainly relied on take-out service over the past months, but now all eight of our dumpling restaurants in Shenyang have restored the dine-in service," said a manager who only gave his surname as Sun from a branch of Laobian Dumpling, the popular restaurant chain, in Shenyang.
"Despite fewer restaurant goers and gloomy sales, we feel better day by day and confident that business will return to normal in the near future," Sun said.
To encourage spending, some businesses have embarked on promotions offering discounts or gifts to customers upon reopening, while some provinces are handing out coupons to the public.
Local officials in several provinces and cities have been taking the lead in recent days in patronizing restaurants and shopping malls, hoping to help bring them more customers.
"A wary return to restaurants shows that the public fear of dining out will be gradually eased. It also boosts people's confidence in the worst-hit catering market," said Zhang Wanqiang, an economist with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
However, Zhang added that it will still take time for the catering business to fully recover as the epidemic is not over.