“We don’t have bat soups!”
Zhengyu Fang, manager of a small Chinese noodle restaurant in Markham, didn’t know what else he could say in response to a barrage of prank calls that were intended to link his business to the coronavirus, a contagious, pneumonia-causing illness that first emerged from Wuhan, China.
When Fang found out his restaurant “Wuhan Noodle 1950” had fallen victim to a flood of racist comments on social media, the family business had already taken a big hit, he said.
“We’ve lost two-thirds of our customers,” the manager said while sitting in the empty restaurant around dinner time Wednesday, confident the misinformation and racist attacks on Instagram played a part in reducing his clientele.
He said a video post surfaced Jan. 27 — which has been deleted, but shared multiple times — and showed a customer walking to the restaurant with a caption reading, “the Wuhan virus has spread to Markham.”
In another post, 6ixbuzztv — a popular Toronto-based page with 1.4-million followers — uploaded a photo of the front of the restaurant with a caption “@ ‘W’ Must Order Lunch Here,” which prompted almost 8,000 mixed comments.
Fang said he found some of the comments “racist against Chinese people.”
Having run the restaurant in a crowded plaza across Markham Civic Centre for two years, Fang and his partner — Chinese immigrants with no recent travel experience — have never encountered anything like this before.
It was plainly baffling for them to see people make associations between the restaurant that serves food with locally produced ingredients and the disease that was quickly spreading on the other side of the world — all because of its name.
As of Thursday, there wasn’t any confirmed cases in York Region.
“We’ll stay open. We did nothing wrong,” Fang said, as a phone call made to the restaurant Wednesday demanded they close it down.
What the noodle restaurant experienced may be unique given the circumstances; it was far from being the only business bearing the brunt of the fear over coronavirus in Markham and Richmond Hill — two of the most ethnically diverse communities in Canada.
In fact, the impact on Chinese businesses have been felt across the board in the area, according Ben Leung, vice-president of Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan Chinese Business Association.
“Many Lunar New Year dinner parties were cancelled, and restaurants have lost a lot of business,” Leung said.
He said it’s good that people have taken precautionary measures and warned the risk of spreading unverified information in the already-rattled community.
Fang said he appreciated that many people have help called out racist comments on the Instagram post but worried the misleading information might have a lasting impact on his business.
6ixbuzztv didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from yorkregion.com.
Officials in the GTA have warned of the spread of rumours and hoaxes as anti-Chinese racism is reportedly on the rise locally and globally.
Mathieu Poirier, assistant professor of social epidemiology at York University, said that a xenophobic or racist response is common following disease outbreaks.
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“The epidemic of fear that follows the disease is just as dangerous,” he said.
York Region assured residents that the risk of being infected remains “low” at a press conference Thursday, shortly after the World Health Organization declared an emergency over the new virus.
As of Thursday, 27 people were tested for Wuhan coronavirus in Ontario, but most remain in their own homes and there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission here, provincial health officials say, as the number of confirmed cases remains steady at two in Ontario.