Hand sanitizer and face masks are sold out. Italy has closed its borders, and so too has the United States, as the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases across the nation soar into the thousands.
As the coronavirus spreads, so too does fear over catching the disease. But underlying this viral panic is another dark symptom: increasing sentiments of racism and xenophobia—particularly towards Asian individuals and communities.
Chinatowns across the United States and the world have turned into ghost towns. “Most of the places have lost—if they’re lucky—50% [of customers]. If they’re not lucky, they’ve lost 80%, so a lot of restaurants cannot open at all.” Kenny Chang, president of KCAL, an insurance agency with a majority of Chinese clients, says of the deserted streets of Los Angeles’ Chinatown.
Foot traffic in San Francisco’s Chinatown is reportedly down by more than 50%, and New York’s Chinatown has experienced losses of 50%. Anecdotal reports say that five restaurants have closed in San Gabriel Valley, an historically large Chinese enclave east of Los Angeles.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with restaurateurs who are saying they might just go into renovation mode for a couple of months while they try to ride this out or they’ve had to furlough some of their employees and figure out alternate working schedules for a lot of them because they don’t want to completely lay everyone off right now,” Angela Chang, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Asian Business Association (ABA) in Los Angeles, says in a phone conversation. She also notes that Asian supermarkets have also seen fewer patrons lately.
A restaurant in L.A.’s Chinatown closed just last week to remodel in response to the lack of business. The Chinese restaurant has been around for 20 years but decided to use the lull in customers to complete overdue renovations. The business owner, who declined to give her restaurant’s name, is not sure how long the closure will last.
“All the businesses are very quiet right now,” the owner, who wishes her name not be used, says. “What I heard is that a couple of restaurants are going to be closed for a couple of days or a week.”