British Columbia

'Rampant' spread of coronavirus misinformation causing businesses to suffer: health minister, mayor

Speaking after a round-table with the Chinese-Canadian community in Vancouver's Chinatown, federal health minister Patty Hajdu says Chinese-Canadians are being unfairly stigmatized and their business are suffering.

Some restaurants have reported 70% drop in business since outbreak, mayor says after Chinatown round-table

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix join a group of local officials and members of the Chinese-Canadian community to discuss the fallout from coronavirus. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Misinformation around the novel coronavirus is stigmatizing Chinese-Canadians and having negative consequences on their Vancouver businesses, Canada's health minister says.

Patty Hajdu made the statements in the city's Chinatown after participating in a round-table discussion with members of the Chinese-Canadian community, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

"The nature of our conversation was about the impact COVID-19, the coronavirus outbreak, is having on their business, their organizations, and the fear and misinformation that is rampant online," said Hajdu.

According to Stewart, some restaurants have reported a 70 per cent drop in business since the news of the outbreak became public.

"We're here to support business in the local community who are suffering mostly because of misinformation," said Stewart. 

"We're encouraging people to continue on with their regular business, to enjoy all the great food and services that are offered here in Chinatown and other Chinese communities because at this stage we consider everything to be safe," he said.

So far, the virus has killed more than 1,770 people and infected more than 71,000, mostly in mainland China. Eight Canadians have been diagnosed with coronavirus. None have died.

Glynnis Chan of Happy Times Travel in Vancouver's Chinatown says she's booked just a single new customer in the past three weeks. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Hajdu said one of the challenges of countering misinformation around coronavirus is how prevalent it is and how quickly it spreads on social media. 

"We just need to continue to remind Canadians to go to the sources where there is credible information," she said.

'It's a nightmare'

At Vancouver's Happy Times Travel agency in Chinatown, new business has dried up to almost nothing since the arrival of coronavirus. 

"It's a nightmare," said owner Glynnis Chan, who's booked just a single new customer in the past three weeks.

Medical staff move a patient into the isolation ward in a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Feb. 6. As of mid-February, COVID-19 has killed almost 1,800 people, mostly in mainland China. (Barcroft Media/Getty)

"We are busy cancelling reservations and rescheduling everything for our existing customers. Chinese New Year come along, it should be a busy time for us ... but this year it was terrible."

Chan has been forced to cut her full time staff to half time to deal with the drop off. And she's not feeling optimistic things will turn around anytime soon, especially with the next busy season — booking customers on Alaska cruises — right around the corner. 

"I don't think people like to book the cruises now because of the bad experience they see on the news with the Diamond Princess and other cruise ships going around the sea and not able to stop anywhere. So there's a big impact and a big shadow," she said.

The Diamond Princess is a cruise ship currently under quarantine in Japanese water with 3,700 hundred passengers aboard, including 255 Canadians.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu gives an update on repatriating Canadians on board the Diamond Princess:

Health minister expects Canadians to be repatriated 'later this week' from Japan

4 years ago
Duration 0:24
Health Minister Patty Hajdu says the government is working to bring home a number of Canadians onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in quarantine off Japan.

The federal government is planning to evacuate Canadians from the ship and fly them back to Canada. 

Hajdu told the media conference in Vancouver that she expected the plane to arrive home sometime later this week.

"I know there's about 100 Canadians or so out of the 250-plus that have not respond yet in terms of what their intentions are," she said. 

With files from Lien Yeung