Coronavirus fear affecting Chinatown businesses

Hwa Yuan on East Broadway in Manhattan's Chinatown is a well-known high-end Szechuan restaurant. But at a time when it should be busy for the Chinese New Year, its business has slowed.

"Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I think our business was probably affected by 30 to 40%," chef and owner Chen Tang said. The reason? Coronavirus—or more specifically, fears of it spreading.

"A week ago really people started to get afraid," Tang said. "It's really affected our business."

While there are currently three possible cases of the virus in New York City, none has been confirmed yet. Still, news of a mounting global death toll and an increasing number of cases around the country has many on edge and many businesses in Chinese neighborhoods hurting.

"The Golden Unicorn, for example, the manager was telling me 'I would be lying if I don't tell you it has affected the business,' he said one group, a tour group of 45 people just canceled totally," said Wellington Chan, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership and the Chinatown Business Improvement District.

Elected officials say they have had reports of businesses experiencing downturns in Chinatown, Sunset Park, Flushing, and other Chinese neighborhoods.

"This is not a time to panic, it's a time to be vigilant," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.

He and others held a press conference in Chinatown urging people to exercise the same precautions they take during cold and flu season but not stay away from specific neighborhoods.

Officials said the biggest threat currently is not the spread of the disease in New York but the spread of misinformation.

"There is no reason not to take the subway, not to take the bus, not to go out to your favorite restaurant," Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said.

That advice was echoed by Dr. Elan Levy, an emergency medicine physician of Lenox Health Greenwich Village.

"If you are at a high risk of getting sick from any infectious disease, really old, really young, if you have underlying comorbidities, it may not be the best idea to go somewhere where there could be a group of people sick," he said. "But I don't think avoiding neighborhoods, in general, is rational."

The annual Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown, a normally packed event, is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 9. Officials and community leaders are encouraging people to attend as they normally would.


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