Metro Vancouver Chinese restaurant officials gathered at a news conference in Richmond Friday, urging federal, provincial and municipal governments to provide embattled establishments with more support as patrons stay away en-masse.
Restaurants have reported business falling off by as much as 80 per cent in some cases since the coronavirus outbreak was first made public on Jan. 20 in Wuhan, China. But while the COVID-19 virus has killed more than 2,000 people, only five confirmed cases of infection have been reported in B.C.
Canada Catering Association president Charlie Huang said restaurants have tried to adapt by offering coupons, taking up delivery services and cutting staff, but several establishments have been forced to suspend operations.
Huang said that owners are asking government officials to provide some sort of tax relief, and some owners have been going to landlords to defer rent. He added that he hopes federal, provincial and municipal governments do more in stemming public panic levels surrounding the outbreak – including looking at more proactive quarantine procedures for people recently returning from China.
“We are asking for this because the outbreak would have a huge impact in our industry if it’s left unchecked,” Huang said. “We will do everything in our power to assure public safety... but we need more government support.”
Asian Restaurant Cafe Owners Association president David Chung – who is also a landlord – said landlords would be open to deferring rent payments for restaurants if asked, given the current situation. But he also challenged Vancouver diners about being “overly worried” about a virus that has had very few confirmed cases in Canada.
“If you think a restaurant is not up to the level of hygiene you are comfortable with, then there are others,” he said. “... We’ve all lost business – some more than others – but it has all been extremely unnecessary. Has there been any cases of transmission at a Chinese restaurant here? No.”
Among the politicians in attendance was NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who did not commit to any form of tax relief as a solution. Kwan said she wants all three levels of government to talk with Chinese restaurant owners to see if there are other methods that can support the suffering industry in different ways.
But she acknowledged that this is a sector that needs help – and quickly.
“Around this time of year, this is usually the busiest time for me because of all the [Lunar] New Year celebrations and events going on,” Kwan said. “But most of them have been cancelled this year. And if I can feel it, the restaurants must be feeling much more of an impact... These are unusual times, and it’s not everyday this happens. But in unusual times, it’s important to take action.”