'Support Chinatown in Chicago': Restaurant crawl aims to overcome coronavirus xenophobia

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Business owners and lawmakers said they are worried about the effect the novel coronavirus will have in the coming weeks and months.

Currently there are 53 confirmed cases in the U.S.

Monday night, a restaurant crawl in Chicago's Chinatown Square aimed to support Chinatown businesses and combat fear.

"No confirmed cases down here. Everyone's healthy," said Carlos Matias, who organized the crawl. "The food is still delicious, and we should be supporting these small businesses."

Though there's no evidence the novel coronavirus poses a threat locally, some merchants in Chinatown are still reporting a drop in business of 80 percent or more.

"These business owners haven't done anything to deserve that," said Ally Lee, who attended the crawl. "Nothing's changed in the quality of the food or the goods that you're buying here."

The lunchtime crowd at Lao Sze Chuan was nowhere to be seen. Owner Tony Hu said his business is down by nearly 50 percent, only keeping afloat thanks to his robust delivery business.

"A lot of people getting scared, a lot of tourists are choosing not to come and that is why Chinatown is hurting a lot," Hu said.

The president of the local association of Chinese restaurants said many nearby stores face revenue shortfalls of 80-percent or more due to fears over the novel coronavirus.

"We are just encouraging people to go around two or three places, spend some money," Matias said. "I think it is detrimental. That whole community of businesses is hurting because of xenophobia and I think we need to make people more aware of the facts."

In Chinatown the participants in the crawl enjoyed a hot meal on a cold night served with a side of perspective.

"I think that you are just as likely to hit the lottery or get hit by lightning tonight as you are to catch the coronavirus," said food crawl organizer Jose Corcoles.

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Some of the broader economic effects of the outbreak were seen Monday on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial plunged more than 1,000 points, marking its worst day in two years amid fears of a global economic slowdown.

"This is not a virus that goes by any other way than its transmission patterns. It goes to Iranians and South Koreans, as well as Chinese," said Dr. Renslow Sherer, infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Scherer has worked with colleagues in Wuhan and thinks science will get control over the virus soon, hopefully by the end of March.

"There is no reason to punish or look towards a certain race or a certain group of individuals, and no, I am not scared by this virus," he added.

The World Health Organization was unable to say whether spread of the virus would slow down any time soon.

"The virus may settle down into an endemic pattern of transmission, into a seasonal pattern of transmission or could accelerate into a full-blown global pandemic," said Michael Ryan, WHO.
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