Coronavirus impacts U.S. Chinatowns

Although the number of U.S. cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, have so far been comparatively low, the disease is impacting the country in other ways. Most notably, on a number of Chinese businesses, taking an economic hit.  

Chicago's Chinatown, situated a few kilometers south of the city's downtown, has enjoyed major growth over the last few decades, becoming a major tourist attraction in its own right. But over the last few weeks, business has slowed significantly. 

Although the epicenter of COVID-19, is half a world away… fear of the coronavirus has drastically cut visitors here and that has left business owners counting the cost.  

Tony Hu is a well-known celebrity chef whose Lao Sze Chuan chain of restaurants have been awarded numerous prizes. "The Coronavirus impacted Chinatown a lot. The virus killed every business especially Chinese restaurant businesses and Chinatown is a big hit."

Restaurant owners are looking to fight back, organizing a "We love Chinatown" campaign.  But the impact on the area is already clear. Sam Huang operates a restaurant supply business. "Chinatown area is very bad. A little bit outside Chinatown, it is a little bit better… but in Chinatown area I think we lose 50% of business." 

Fears about COVID-19 in Chicago accelerated after the city saw the first confirmed U.S. case of person-to-person transmission.

But the husband and wife, both in their 60s, have since recovered and been discharged from the hospital. 

And despite worries the virus would spread, the city has yet to record a further case. 

Chicago and Illinois health officials are also attempting to allay fears, organizing a news conference to persuade locals that the risk to the general public remains low. Dr. Allison Arwady is the commissioner for Chicago's Department of Public Health "Please do not allow stigma, xenophobia, or fear to control your decisions. Chinatown and all of Chicago is open for business." 

If that doesn't work and if there is a further scare locally, then Tony Hu says many restaurants will struggle to continue. "I am so sure if it keeps like this. Two or three more months. A lot of people will have big problems. The rent is high, the bill is high. Everything is high. Every restaurant faces the problem. How can you pay the bills on time."

Many here are deeply concerned about the devastation of the virus in China and hoping, for the good of all, that COVID-19 runs its course quickly.