British Columbia

Coronavirus fears lead to sharp declines at some Metro Vancouver businesses

Businesses that count on Chinese clientele are hurting all because of heightened fears around COVID-19.

Shops that count on Chinese clientele say traffic and revenue are down

An unusually quiet Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, B.C., around lunchtime on Wednesday. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

The near-empty food court at the usually crowded Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, B.C., is just one example of the ripple effect the coronavirus outbreak in China has had thousands of kilometres away.

"Normally you have to fight for a table, but now you can have a seat," said Joey Kwan, director of promotions and public relations for the mall. 

Kwan says traffic is about 30 per cent lower than normal for this time of year, largely due to fears and rumours around coronavirus, or as it now called, COVID-19.

"This is very understandable. We want to keep ourselves and our family safe, especially when this is still very new," she said. 

The usually bustling food court at Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, B.C., pictured Feb. 12 around lunchtime, has been noticeably quieter since the coronavirus outbreak. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Business is also down for restaurants, according to David Chung with the B.C. Asian Restaurant Cafe Owners Association.

This time of year, right after Lunar New Year, is normally one of the busiest but he says people are largely staying away or cancelling banquets and functions. 

"Most restaurants have just a few tables out in the evening now instead of a full house. A lot of them have lost 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the business," he said. "So it's not good."

New numbers from China

Fears about coronavirus aren't completely unfounded.

The outbreak has caused a massive death toll at its epicentre, China's Hubei province. In the latest report, the Chinese province's health commission says 1,310 people have died from the disease, and nearly 14,480 have been diagnosed.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of other countries and territories, but only two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

In Canada, the number of confirmed cases is seven — with four in B.C. and three in Ontario.

Though the number of cases outside of China is low, Chinese officials in Canada posted a message in January telling people to avoid crowded locations and participating in large gatherings. 

David Chung of the B.C. Asian Restaurant Cafe Owners Association says business is drastically lower this year. (CBC)

Risk in Canada low

However, local officials like B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry say the risk is still very low in Canada.

"Right in Canada and in B.C., the risk of this virus is very, very low. We know we have four cases and all of their close contacts are being monitored. So no, I don't believe we have any reason to cancel events or take restrictions on community activities," she said. 

Chung hopes this message comes through.

"After a while people want to come out right? I mean really how long can you really stay at home?"

Chinese restaurants are usually busy around the Lunar New Year, but not in 2020. (CBC)

With files from Lien Yeung, On The Coast


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