COVID-19 fears hurt bottom line of Chinese restaurants in Victoria

WatchA number of Chinese restaurant operators in Victoria say they are losing business due to COVID-19 fears. This despite officials' assurances that there is no risk to the public. As Mary Griffin reports, one owner is hoping he doesn't have to lay off staff before business improves.

At the start of lunch rush in Victoria on Wednesday, staff outnumbered the customers the Jade Fountain Restaurant in Saanich.

Owner Johnny Woo said it’s been like this for weeks.

“My business is going down,” Woo said.

Part of the decrease in customers is due to road construction on Douglas Street just outside the Red Lion Hotel where the restaurant is located.

But Woo said most of the 50-per cent drop in business here, and at other Chinese restaurants in Victoria, is due to fears over COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). 

“It should be a full house. Sometimes, it is still a lineup on the weekday,” Woo said.

Last week, at Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre, few shoppers could be seen at a time when it should be bustling.  Business is down 30-per cent.  Joey Kwan, director of promotions and public relations at Aberdeen Centre, said people are worried. 

“People start to fear and panicking. This is very understandable. Because we want to keep ourselves, and our families safe,” Kwan said.

Officials say the problem is misinformation about COVID-19 stigmatizing Chinese-Canadians, and their businesses. BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Wednesday there is no risk to any member of the public visiting a Chinese restaurant in British Columbia.

“There is no situation in British Columbia where any Chinese restaurant or any other restaurant has been a source of risk for this virus at all. So I can reassure people we should not have any concerns about Chinatown, about any of the restaurants in British Columbia,” Dr. Henry said during a COVID-19 update in Vancouver.

Victoria coun. Charlayne Thorton-Joe, said this is the time to support local businesses.

“I hope that everyone can head down to their favourite Chinese restaurants and show support. Because I think the businesses need support at this time,” Thornton-Joe said.

Back at the Jade Fountain, Woo is hoping he won’t have to cut any staff before things improve.

“Cut some hours, I try to keep the staff here. But I do my best,” Woo said.

There have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. The first person who was diagnosed in January has fully recovered.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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