Chinese Canadians are bearing the brunt of misinformation and rumour about COVID-19, warns Canada’s health minister.
Patty Hajdu met with her B.C. counterpart Adrian Dix, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and stakeholders in the Vancouver Chinese Canadian community Monday to find ways to combat the issue.
Alex Wang, who runs the Peninsula Seafood Restaurant in Oakridge said he’s seen business drop more than 70 per cent.
“For my cash flow, I don’t think I can survive longer than three months,” he said.
Wang said he’s trying to avoid laying off staff, some who’ve been with the business for six years, but has been forced to cut shifts.
“The biggest loss is the salary and our inventory that we prepare for the Chinese New Year.”
Mayor Stewart said Wang’s concerns are widespread in the community, where unfounded fears around COVID-19 have some entrepreneurs worried they’ll be put out of business.
“We’ve heard some restaurants that are losing 50, 60, 70 per cent of business which is very, very concerning to us, because most of it is based on misinformation,” said Stewart.
“We’re encouraging people to go on with their regular business, enjoy all the great food and other services that are offered here in Chinatown and other Chinese communities because at this stage we’re considering everything safe and we don’t want these businesses hurt.”
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow, there has been rising concern about racism and misinformation which is rapidly being spread online.
Asian supermarket chain T&T was forced to issue a statement in January after social media posts linked it to the virus, while this month a B.C. man who had never been infected found himself as the unwitting face of the disease thanks to a viral photo.
Hajdu made a similar stop with Ontario’s health minister and Toronto’s mayor last week amid similar concerns stigmatization in that city’s Chinatown.
Hajdu said there was nothing new about online misinformation, but that the speed with which it’s spreading is a challenge.
“Sometimes there are alternative agendas for misinformation,” she said.
“Sometimes people drive fear because they like to, sometimes they drive fear because it might result in a profit. You can sell more masks for example if you create more fear. People sometimes drive fear as a way to cast aspersions on communities.”
Hajdu said it is more important than ever that Canadians stick to reliable sources of information, whether it be credible media or official provincial or federal public health officials.
Dix said health officials in British Columbia had made a point of maximum transparency, including weekly in-person updates with the province’s top doctor, in a bid to counter misinformation.
“We are determined, any time there is a positive case, to let people know and we’ve consistently done that,” he said.
“People can be assured that that is going to happen every single time.”
Hajdu also spoke about Canadians aboard cruise ships docked in Cambodia and Yokohama where COVID-19 cases have surfaced.
She said there was no formal timeline to repatriate Canadians aboard the ship in Japan, but that officials anticipate it could take place later this week.
She added that health officials were still working to determine which Canadians aboard the ship in Cambodia had left that ship and what their travel routes were.
As of Monday, eight COVID-19 cases had been identified in Canada — five in British Columbia and three in Ontario.
The virus has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 70,000 people in total, most of them in mainland China.