Coronavirus: Restaurants struggle amid fears of outbreak


At Shabu House in Houston’s Chinatown, Asian comfort food is on the menu, including hot pots of steaming soup filled with the customer’s choice of meat and vegetables.

Since the coronavirus began to grab headlines, the restaurant has been at least half-empty. And Shabu House is not alone.

“Pretty much all the restaurants in our entire shopping plaza (are down) anywhere from 50% to 75%, depending on the day,” says Debbie Chen, one of Shabu House’s owners. “It’s pretty challenging for all of us.”

The new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has sickened tens of thousands, mostly in China, and caused at least 1,775 deaths. Businesses struggle amid fears of the outbreak, including restaurants in Chinatown neighborhoods across the USA.

At Yin Ji Chang Fen, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown, business has dropped 30% to 40% since the first cases of coronavirus were reported near the start of the year.
The dip is noticeable “especially at lunchtime,” manager Steve Ip says.

Not only has his restaurant lost business because fewer Chinese tourists visit the USA, he says, but Chinese students at colleges who used to crowd the eatery’s tables are also missing.

“The airlines all canceled the flights,” Ip says. “During the Chinese New Year, (the students) go back to China, and now they can’t come back to school.”
Coronavirus cases confirmed in seven states

In the USA, cases have been confirmed in seven states, and hundreds of people have been placed under quarantine.

Those who contracted the virus traveled from abroad or had contact with someone who did, and it is “not currently spreading in the community in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, fears about the illness have a ripple effect across industries and countries. The world’s biggest mobile trade show was supposed to take place in Spain this month, but the event was canceled after tech giants such as Facebook, Sony and Amazon decided not to attend.

Delta, United and American airlines canceled flights to China in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. Airbnb allows some guests to cancel their reservations without charge if they were headed to areas affected by the outbreak. McDonald’s and Starbucks shuttered hundreds of locations in China.

In Houston, customers have been scared away from some businesses.