Into my endless scroll of sad, depressing, and dismal news about the coronavirus crisis came a ray of light: News that Claridge's Hotel in London will house and feed medical workers from the UK's National Health Service.
"We are in the world of hospitality," Paula Fitzherbert told me when I called for details. "We have to look after people. And nobody needs looking after more than these NHS workers."
Fitzherbert is the Group Director of Public Relations for the Maybourne Hotel Group, which includes three of London's most estimable and luxurious hotels: Claridge's, The Connaught, and The Berkeley. The hotels closed last week, and quickly shifted into can-do mode.
"There was no question that it was our duty to step up and help," she told me. "The most obvious thing is: We have food and beds. And that’s what is in short supply. It is a no-brainer. And luckily, we have a great owner who championed the great cause, so it all happened quite quickly."
The first step was dispatching hotel amenities — soaps, toothbrushes, and shampoo — when local hospitals put out a call for supplies. "We cleared out the cupboards."
Next came food. The hotels' restaurants staffs are preparing daily breakfasts and dinners for more than 500 NHS workers and community care homes around London — meals the hotel chauffeurs are helping to deliver.
Finally, starting tomorrow, 40 medical front-liners will be calling Claridge's home. These are workers who either live far away or who cannot return to their homes because they live with elderly parents or partners who are immuno-compromised.
"We’re moving from being a luxury five-star hotel to being a comforting refuge," Fitzherbert tells me in a voice resolute with pride and even more determination. While she was happy to share news of what the hotels are doing, she is also very careful not to boast in any way. This initiative is not about the hotel tooting its horn; it's about everyone rolling up their sleeves and helping by doing what they do best.
Fitzherbert detailed the extra precautions that are being taken. "The health and safety of staff is very important. We worked closely with the NHS and will be following government guidelines and very strict protocols so we don't jeopardize anyone's health."
As if to underline how unprecedented this crisis is — and how much it's changing everything — this is the first time Claridge's has closed its doors in its 200-year history. The hotel remained open throughout World War II and the Blitz, when it was home to members of the army as well as displaced kings and queens from around Europe.
While Claridge's is the center of the operation because it has the best infrastructure and the biggest kitchens, employees from all three hotels have volunteered to help — to prepare and deliver the meals, to keep up hotel operations. In fact, Maybourne had more volunteers than they immediately needed.
"There will be time for everyone," Fitzherbert tells me. "We're in this for the long haul."
See more of our coverage of the ongoing crisis: Travel During Coronavirus: Resources, Relief, and Recommendations.