World Journal

Residents wear face masks while walking in Flushing, Queens. (Credit: World Journal)

Read the original story in Chinese at World Journal
Translated by Rong Xiaoqing

Though no cases have been diagnosed in New York, businesses in the city’s Chinese-concentrated neighborhoods are already feeling the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, as concerning customers — scared by rumors shared on social media platforms — opt to stay home instead of shopping and dining out.

In recent days, rumors about coronavirus cases in Long Island, Flushing and Chinatown have been spreading rampantly on social media platforms, though city health officials said Friday there have been zero confirmed cases of the illness here, and that risk to New Yorkers is low. Yet after the Lunar New Year parade last weekend attracted more than 10,000 viewers to downtown Flushing, the neighborhood is now visibly quieter than normal. 

Some restaurant owners told reporters their staff are required to wear masks, and that all utensils are bring sterilized. They called for the public to not be fooled by rumors, assuring them it is safe to dine at their restaurants. 

Mr. Du, who runs a bakery shop, said normally business would reach a climax in the days after the annual parade, but this year is different.

“Many of the [baked goods] we made today were still on the shelves by 3 p.m. We had to offer ‘buy one get one free’ by the end of the day to reduce our loss,” said Du, who blamed the gloomy weather and the epidemic for the slump.          

Restaurant owners report that the crowds which usually keep them busy during the lunar new year period are no longer there. They say from the Lunar New Year’s Day (Jan. 25) to the forth day of the new year (Jan. 28), the number of customers was halved compared to the same period in the previous year. Fei Li, who runs a restaurant called Miss Li in Flushing, said posts about coronavirus have been spreading wildly on social media, and everyone is afraid.     

“I understand that we are all highly alerted about the virus,” said Li. “But spreading unverified news about confirmed cases won’t be able to protect anyone but only stir up unnecessary fear.”

The food courts in Flushing’s shopping malls that are popular among Chinese gourmets are also being shadowed by the epidemic, and look deserted even during lunch hours. Jenny Li, who runs a Taiwan snacks stand, said it’s been like this the last few days. The number of customers dining in has dropped 50 percent, and delivery orders are also declining.

“While there is no confirmed cases in New York City, the business operators in the shopping mall all have our masks on to assure our customers that our food and dining environment are safe,” Li said. 

Jin Li, who took a business trip to New York from New Jersey, also wore a face mask. He said such masks haven’t yet started to get popular in New Jersey, but it seemed everyone walking on the streets of Flushing was wearing one, and it was those who didn’t wear them that drew attention.

“I am more afraid when I see people wearing masks,” said Li. “I’ll go back to New Jersey as soon as I finish my errand and will not come back to New York anytime soon.”