Coronavirus evokes a fear of all things Chinese

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By Sabrina Almeida

I was waiting my turn at a Mississauga diagnostic imaging centre two days ago, when an east Asian woman walked in. Given the backlash that the Chinese community is facing after the coronavirus outbreak, I wondered if the others would react negatively to her presence.

Everyone seemed to stiffen a bit on seeing her and their eyes darted in unison to the empty chairs in the area. There was just a handful of us including an elderly Caucasian couple wearing masks. Except for the couple who sat beside each other, the rest of us had chosen to sit a couple of chairs apart. As the Asian lady waited at the reception counter, people shifted around in their seats anxiously, probably wondering who she’d sit next to. Fortunately, I was called in and didn’t have to watch this nonsense play out any further.

For anyone wondering why government officials made a statement denouncing the xenophobic reaction to the coronavirus at a Chinese establishment earlier this week… here is your answer.

I too thought a friend was exaggerating when she said that Nations Supermarket, located in the Erin Mills area of Mississauga, was almost empty. She had gone to shop there at the time news of the superbug originating in China first broke. After two visits, a week apart, I can corroborate her story. I’ve never been in and out of there so quickly or found a parking spot easily before. The food court usually characterized by long queues, was empty. Servers hung over the counters and chatted with each other to pass their time. I’ve never had a conversation beyond placing my order with anyone of them before either, as they would hurry me along to serve impatient customers. It was a sad sight and experience indeed.

A day later another friend recounted a recent visit to a Chinese restaurant to pick up a takeout order. The owner was overjoyed to see him and greeted him warmly. The gentleman was surprised by the personalized attention he received. A brief conversation later, he realized that he was one of the few customers patronising the establishment in a week.

The boycott of Chinese food establishments, though wrong, stems from not just the SARS and coronavirus outbreak but long-standing reservations about their diet and way of life. Many believe that Chinese people eat anything alive and are unclean. A well-known Chinese joke (told by our tour guide in China) which says, ‘ they eat anything that has four legs other than a table, anything that flies other than an airplane, and anything that swims other than a submarine’ seems to support this theory. Videos of rats being sold in Wuhan on social media have added to previous fears.

As for Chinese food establishments being unclean, some of our South Asian ones could easily dethrone them. The local markets I visited in Beijing and Shanghai were not any dirtier than those in Mumbai.

I admit that I have avoided purchasing any produce originating from China in the past few weeks, but I would do the same if the virus originated in India. And it’s because I’m not confident they would take the necessary health precautions.

But Chinese supermarkets and restaurants are not the only business to suffer the consequences of COVID-19 (“CO” stands for “corona,” “VI” for “virus, “D” for “disease” and “19” for “2019”). A couple planning home renovations had their own story to tell. Their search for competitively-priced Chinese vanities, etc. has come to an abrupt halt because there are no shipments coming in from the country. So, their project is on hold indefinitely as there is no timeline for when things will change.

Imagine the impact on businesses retailing these products!

It’s not just Chinese-run establishments that are suffering here. Many local flooring and furniture outlets, for instance, source their products from China. For instance, we had to wait 3 weeks for tile delivery, in normal circumstances, last September. This was not specific to one store either. A number of retailers, who were all sourcing the product from China, gave us the same timelines.

With China manufacturing more goods than any other country on the planet including electronics, home goods, textiles, chemicals, etc. reduced production due to the virus is likely to affect the global economy.

Our ignorance, misconceptions and racist views could only make it worse.

Imagine how we’d feel if the virus originated in India? -CINEWS

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