British Columbia

Politicians gather at Burnaby's Crystal Mall in effort to dispel coronavirus rumours

Politicians from three levels of government came together in Burnaby Friday in an attempt to regenerate business and dispel rumours that victims of the coronavirus are working in the mall.

Business is down 90 per cent, says mall president

Since the mall was targeted on the Chinese social media app WeChat, the restaurant at the centre of the false coronavirus allegations and the mall itself have lost most of their customers. (CBC News)

Politicians from three levels of government came together in Burnaby Friday in an attempt to regenerate business and dispel rumours that victims of the coronavirus are working in the once vibrant Crystal Mall.

Lineups that would normally snake around the food court at lunchtime have virtually been non-existant since rumours that a worker at the mall had contracted coronavirus spread on the Chinese social media app WeChat.  

Business is down 90 per cent, according to the mall's president.

Members of the federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as concerned citizens and business owners gathered at the mall Friday in an effort to dispel fears.

"Since this matter began, I have eaten here. And I'm the minister of health of British Columbia," said Adrian Dix. "I think that tells you what you need to know," he said.

The Crystal Mall in Burnaby experienced a severe decline in customers since rumours of the presence of coronavirus spread on WeChat. (CBC)

Lily Yung, owner of the Grand Crystal Seafood Restaurant in the Crystal Mall, says the 36-character WeChat message tanked her family's business in less than a day. 

The message claimed that one of the restaurant's employees was hit by the coronavirus, also known as the COVID-19 virus, and that officials had shut down the restaurant for 14 days.

Neither of the claims are true according to Yung.

"Vancouverites are already scared. Then you send out useless rumours and lies like this?" Yung told CBC News in Cantonese.

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

Patty 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.

Lily Yung of Grand Crystal Seafood Restaurant received this screenshot of a message which had gone viral on WeChat. A second message said her restaurant, located inside the Crystal Mall in Burnaby had an employee that had contracted COVID-19. (Submitted by Lily Yung)

As of Feb. 21, the National Microbiology Laboratory has confirmed 455 negative cases and 9 positive cases of the COVID-19 virus in Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to say the risk to public health associated with the virus is low.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Despite that, the toll from online rumours continue to affect businesses at the mall.

"We are suffering because a lot of patrons ... are scared they will contract the virus," said Alvis Tsui, president of the Crystal Mall strata council.

New Westminster NDP MP Peter Julian said he typically visits Crystal Mall once a month but because of the recent downturn in business, he and his wife plan to visit more frequently.

"We need to push back against the rumours and we need to push back against what is, in some people's case, blatant racism," said Julian.

Six people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. There have been no deaths from the virus in Canada.

With files from Michelle Goussoub and Karin Larsen

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