By Daina Beth Solomon
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Several prominent restaurant chains and smaller eateries on Monday defied Mexico City's extension of a ban on dine-in service, in an act of civil disobedience against rules aimed at controlling a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Fish restaurant Fisher's, steak house Sonora Grill and Potzollcalli, which sells a Mexican pork and corn soup, were among the outlets that flouted the ban. Between them, the three chains have dozens of outlets in the city area.
Officials initially said a partial lockdown implemented on Dec. 19 would last until Jan. 11, but extended it after surging cases last week pushed hospitals to their limit.
Hospitals in the capital are 89% full, the highest peak of the pandemic, according to city data. Nationwide, Mexico has surpassed 1.5 million cases and 130,000 deaths.
Still, restaurateurs say they can provide a safe dining environment, and have no other option to stay afloat. Fisher's, Sonora Grill and Potzollcalli announced their Monday opening on their social media accounts.
"There's nothing else we can do," said the owner of a small eatery inside a Mexico City housing complex, who asked not to be named because she was serving diners on site.
Although the restaurant survived an earlier lockdown by offering deliveries, orders have dwindled.
"If it were just take-out, I wouldn't break even," she said, noting competitors nearby were also serving guests, increasing her fears of losing business. Her site only serves half its tables, with staff wearing masks and asking customers to wash their hands, she said.
Sonora Grill Chief Executive Ricardo Añorve told Mexican media it was unjust that unregulated street food vendors were able operate while formal outlets applying health measures were closed.
In Mexico City's large central plaza, a couple of dozen restaurant workers, some in white chef's coats and banging pots and pans, said eateries were safe.
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum warned restaurants offering service would be shut down or fined, noting infections spread easily in enclosed places where people are not wearing masks.
The city said it will not collect income tax from restaurants in January and has offered one-off $100 payments for employees.
"Let us work," Jose Manuel Delgado, Potzollcalli's operations director, said in an interview with network Milenio. The company has opened some locations at 25% capacity, but has let go 600 people, half its staff, he added. (Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)
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