Discrimination against China and Chinese people have erupted since the Covid-19 outbreak in January. Anxieties are high as many are avoiding Chinatowns across the world for fear, they might contract the deadly virus.
From Australia to New York City to Toronto to England to San Francisco, Chinatowns in many regions of the world have transformed into ghost towns. We noted this phenomenon last week.
Lily Zhou, 39, who owns a Shanghai-style restaurant in Australia’s Chinatown, told Bloomberg her food sales had crashed 70% since late January, which is around the time the virus started making headlines. She said her operation can withstand another few months of low traffic, and then after that, she would have to close down.
At 99 Favor Taste in Manhattan, store manager Echo Wu said traffic volume has plunged by a third since the virus started making headlines. Wu said depressed sales could begin impacting the long-term outlook for the restaurant. He believes people are irrational, and the media has drummed up Sinophobia.
Dinner time in Chinatown and the restaurants are near empty! What’s going on?
There are no confirmed cases of #coronavirus in NYC, but just the fear of it is sending customers into a panic. Merchants in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Flushing are suffering.@abc7ny pic.twitter.com/ipRTkgBxc8
— Lucy Yang (@LucyYang7) February 11, 2020
The Rol San Restaurant in Toronto’s Chinatown has seen sales slump by at least 30% in the last month. Bloomberg asked the manager if the virus is driving Sinophobia, he replied: “Of course.”
Other restaurants in Toronto’s Chinatown have experienced a slowdown in patrons. Streets are bare, and a nearby supermarket to Rol San has seen traffic halved since the end of last month.
Chinatown in Manchester, England, has seen a 40% decline in its customer base, many of which are Chinese students. “There are fewer visitors, fewer customers. They’re really, really suffering — at the moment we haven’t come up with any solution yet,” Raymond Chan of the local business association said.
As for the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the US, which is in San Francisco, the streets are deserted as people avoid the area for fear of contracting the virus. Henry Chen, 56, owner of the AA Bakery & Cafe on Stockton Street, said his business fell 30% since the virus outbreak in China and confirmed US cases started to tick higher earlier this month. “There are fewer people on the street,” he said. “Lunch, dinner, breakfast, there is no business.”
The plunge in traffic to Western Chinatowns is nothing compared to paralysis that has developed in China’s economy. More than 700 million people are in lockdown in dozens of towns, manufacturing hubs are shuttered, and retail stores remain closed.
However, in Sydney’s Lower North Shore, and Eastwood in the north-west, which has a sizeable Chinese population, stores are thriving and selling out of face masks.
“It is crazy!” the Phoenix health and beauty store assistant manager Ruby Han told Bloomberg, referring to the demand for virus masks, hand sanitizers, and alcohol swabs.
“It’s like every 10 minutes people will come to check — ‘Do you have some masks? Do you have some masks?’” she said. “To be honest, we can’t handle it because the demand is just too high.”
AuMake International Ltd. said online sales for masks have exploded: “This is a once in a decade, or two decades, event,” said Executive Chairman Keong Chan. “We know with Chinese New Year, we anticipate a fairly decent amount of sales, and it is way more than that. I can only conclude that the virus is a huge part of that.”
The same is being said at a pharmacy inside the Dragon City Mall in Toronto: “We probably used to sell about 100 masks a week, now we sell north of 700” despite lower foot traffic, said pharmacist Timothy Tran, 57.
With the virus not yet under control, restaurant owners in many Chinatowns across the world could soon shutter their doors as Sinophobia fears have resulted in plunging sales.
“They may have a bias toward Chinese restaurants now,” He said. “I hope people can be more reasonable. After all, there are no cases in town yet.”