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‘Asialicious’ festival coming to Markham amid coronavirus fears, declining business

Markham businesses suffering from coronavirus fears, misinformation
WATCH: Businesses in Markham’s sizeable Chinese-Canadian community are seeing a drop in business due to fears over novel coronavirus. As Matthew Bingley reports, even the largest specialty supermarket isn’t immune from social media rumours.

A two-week Asian food festival is set to launch in Markham as many businesses have reported a drop in sales due to fears around the new coronavirus.

Asialicious, beginning Feb. 14, aims to boost sales at restaurants and stores that have seen a slump in business, in part because of rumours and misconceptions about the virus, Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti told Global News.

“It’s very unfortunate that people are spreading misinformation,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that people are relying on rumours.”

Despite the World Health Organization’s declaration of a world health emergency, officials in Canada have said the risk to Canadians remains low.

READ MORE: 5 things more likely to kill you in Canada than coronavirus

“What we are really seeing is people reacting out of fear versus the facts, and this is an opportunity for us to tell people they have nothing to be afraid of,” Scarpitti said.

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The plan is welcome news to Mark Ma, whose family owns Grandma’s Home, a local restaurant. He said business is usually better around Lunar New Year, blaming coronavirus overreaction for the downturn.

“People are kind of scared — like, hiding at home,” he said.

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As fears surrounding the virus have spread, some businesses have reported losses of between 20 and 90 per cent said Ken Ng, chair of the Federation of Chinese Canadians in Markham.

“That will have a lot of impact in terms of the workers not working [their typical] hours,” he explained.

“At the same time, all the supply chains that comes around as well — from the delivery to the food supply to the groceries — all of those will downturn if we don’t turn it around.

He credited the success of Markham’s Taste of Asia street festival, launched during the SARS crisis of 2003, with boosting the local economy and bringing the community together.

“This is an opportunity for us to do something for the economy to help the business rebound again and, at the same time, to encourage other people to get together, to work together for betterment,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus travel barriers, business closures can harm the world economy: experts

About 50 restaurant owners have already joined the initiative, Catherine Hou, president of the Chinese Cuisine and Hospitality Association of Canada, told Global News.

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“The revenue is going down. I feel the pain. I feel the loss. I also feel people’s depressions from our members,” she said.

“We want to turn this time into an opportunity time.”

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Organizers of Asialicious plan to launch a website with more information in the coming days.