How a simple free lunch helped a team working on Dubai's Covid-19 battle feel 'valued'

John Basilio says it was an 'amazing surprise' for him and his co-workers to discover McDonald's had sent them lunch for free

John Basilio is a Medical Laboratory Technologist, working at MedCare Women And Child Hospital in Al Safa: he's currently doing testing for Covid-19. Courtesy John Basilio
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It had already been a long day for John Basilio when he stopped for a lunch break this week and decided to order a quick fast food fix from McDonalds.

Basilio, who works as a medical laboratory technologist, or "med tech" for short, was partway through his shift at MedCare Women And Child Hospital in Al Safa.

Usually, Basilio works as a med tech for mothers and their newly delivered babies; but now, he is processing suspected Covid-19 nasal swabs and testing them in a machine to determine whether a patient is positive or negative for the virus.

"They often call us the hidden profession that saves lives without getting recognised," Basilio, who is from the Philippines, tells The National.

As usual, when he went to order lunch on Monday, he took orders from his other colleagues, and then called the hotline number from the hospital.

But when the delivery driver arrived to hand over the order, which totalled about Dh150, instead of a bill, he got a note.

"Hello! We've seen that you've placed your order from the hospital. Hope you're keeping well! Your order is on us. The McDonald's UAE team," the note read.

"It was an amazing surprise," Basilio says.

I feel like there is a sense of unity beyond this pandemic. Everyone is doing their part to alleviate the stress and fear for us health care workers

"I feel motivated because reading the letter gave us a sense of being valued. I’m a millennial who’s more on social media and technology, but reading a letter like [that] is a different level of encouragement."

On a single 12 hour shift, Basilio says that between the nine people on his team, they examine 300 patients.

Each person gets a 30-minute lunch break.

While he says it's busy work, he says the teamwork being displayed during the outbreak is heartening.

"I feel like there is a sense of unity beyond this pandemic. Everyone, including McDonalds, is doing their part to alleviate the stress and fear for us health care workers," he says.

Free meals for all healthcare workers?

John Basilio was ordering work for lunch when he got a note from McDonalds saying the meal was free. Courtesy John Basilio

So, was this a one off from the fast food giant? Walid Fakih, general manager at McDonald’s UAE, says the free meals aren't an offer or a campaign, but more of a "thank you" to healthcare workers.

"Last week, we noticed that orders were coming in from healthcare professionals on duty at hospitals. In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, we were looking for a way to thank them for everything they are doing."

While there was no hard and fast rule to qualify for a free meal, Fakih said the gesture would be extended to any healthcare workers "whenever we are able to identify the orders coming from healthcare facilities in the UAE".

The past few weeks haven't been easy for healthcare workers around the world, as Basilio reiterates. "Working in times like these, there is also fear that we might contract the virus, but in a hospital you just get used to thinking it’s just an ordinary day of work," he says.

"I feel stressed hearing the news of healthcare workers dying from their duty of work, but looking on the bright side you see people, friends and family giving you support on social media, encouraging me to be safe always.

"It makes me feel like a soldier fighting in a battlefield and those are the reasons why I need to wake up everyday and night to stay working at these times."