Chinatowns around the world, some centuries old, are quiet, as businesses to survive the effects of global concern over the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses in Australia’s oldest Chinatown enclave, dating back to the influx of fortune-seekers during an 1850s gold rush, report their earnings have dropped by more than half and they have been forced to cut staff hours dramatically, a situation echoed in Chinatowns across the world.
Although China’s Hupei province, the epicentre of the epidemic is more than a ten hour flight way and Australia has seen just a handful of cases, the stigma of a disease that has now claimed more than 2000 lives is pervasive. One restaurant owner in Melbourne’s historic Chinese district complains: “Scaremongering is rampant. Customers won’t come in if they can avoid it.”
At the popular Empire Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver’s Richmond suburb, getting a table is now easy.
“Usually we’d have a large line-up time of approximately five-ten tables, but today there is no line up at all. Some people have already cancelled their parties and banquets. Many restaurants are seeing the same thing. Hopefully, this gets back to normal really soon.”
A ban on travellers from China has hit many neighbourhoods hard. In Australia, the travel ban has been compounded by almost 100,000 Chinese students being prohibited from flying in to start the academic year.
Hoping to reassure, many businesses have put up notices informing customers that they disinfect their interiors regularly to prevent disease. Others have even installed hand sanitiser for guests and give staff face masks and rubber gloves. But such measures appear to have limited success.
Many believe xenophobia has worsened the situation, and many people of Asian descent, Chinese or otherwise, complain of racism and say they feel ostracised. One Thai man working in the United Kingdom was assaulted in what he claimed was a racist attack linked to the current virus outbreak.
Fred Lo owns a souvenir store in San Francisco that’s usually frequented by tourists from Europe and South America.
“But for the past two weeks, there’s been a lot less people, at least 50% less, even though nobody is sick or has even been to China.”
Said Eddie Lau, president of Melbourne’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce:
“It’s unfair that a lot of people are scared of Chinese people,” “We tell people, ‘we are fine, don’t be scared’.”
One Chinese man in London says he’s clearly noticed others avoiding him in recent weeks, but understands why people are afraid and tries to take it in his stride.
“I travel by train every morning. One day last week, all the people were standing, and I’ve got an empty seat next to me. I laughed about it.”
SOURCE: The Bangkok Post
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