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Coronavirus fears hit trade in Chinatown

Businesses in famous West End district report ‘quiet’ and cancellations

14 February, 2020 — By Tom Foot and Danny Halpin

A quiet Chinatown this week

CORONAVIRUS panic has hit Chinatown hard with traders warning business has plunged by more than 50 per cent.

The famous West End district looked more like a ghost-town yesterday (Thursday) with normally bustling streets all but empty.

Workers are chopping food wearing surgical masks but staff told the Extra customers should not fear Chinese people or their cuisine just because the new coronavirus was first discovered in China. There have been reports of growing racism and people switching seats on public transport to move away from Chinese passengers.

“It’s down to a fear of the unknown,” said Jin Lim, who works in Newport Court.

“In some ways it’s understandable, people from all parts of society are staying away. Chinatown has been deserted. It’s worrying.”

Another worker who didn’t want to be named said: “All of Chinatown is quiet. People are afraid.”

Ash Kotak, a writer, said: “It is the assumption that Chinese people do not have the same fears as non-Chinese people… The man who spread the virus to the UK was a white British businessman.”

Derek Lim, manager of Dumpling’s Legend restaurant, said in the past two weeks walk-ins have dropped by 50 per cent, with many cancelling bookings.

The World Health Organisation has named the virus Covid-19 and its advice is to avoid people who are coughing and sneezing and to make sure meat and eggs are properly cooked. See: www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

The owner of a celebrated restaurant in Gerrard Street, who did not want to be named, added: “The virus is from China. This place is called Chinatown. Everyone is worried if they go to this place they will be at higher risk to get the viruses. But that is not the reason.”

London Chinatown Chinese Association, which represents businesses, said it was “closely monitoring” the spread of the virus that had by yesterday (Thursday) claimed more than 1,300 lives worldwide.

It can be transferred from humans to animals and back again and common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

West End ward councillor Pancho Lewis added: “Visitors, shoppers and tourists alike need to know that Chinatown is open to business and will remain open to business. We welcome people here to come shop, eat and visit – like we do in the rest of the West End. It goes without saying people should have no concerns whatsoever about visiting.”

Tens of thousands went to Chinatown for the Year of the Rat celebrations at the end of January.

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