An unusually quiet Chinatown this week (Image: Erin Assur)

COVID-19 silences Sydney’s Chinatown

Late morning should be the time when businesses and restaurants in Chinatown gear up for the lunchtime rush of hungry office workers, but that has not been the case lately.

Usually buzzing with diners, shoppers, students, tourists and locals, the streets of Haymarket were unusually quiet this week.

With the potentially deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) rapidly spreading globally, after originating in Wuhan, China, fear and caution are having a significant impact on Chinese stores and restaurants in Australia.

Melbourne has seen one of its well-known Chinese restaurants, Shark Fin House, close down as a result of the sudden drastic decrease in income.

In Sydney, businesses including Chatime, a popular bubble tea outlet, are feeling the pinch .“It’s been really quiet for the last two to three weeks, and the drop in customers has been significant for all the shops in the area,” said one employee, Nicole, who declined to give her surname.

Sydney’s Chinatown: the crowds have disappeared (Photo: Erin Assur)

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Chinese-born Federal MP Gladys Liu said social media was helping to spread global panic about the virus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that Australians’ safety is the “top priority”, and the federal government has extended for another week the travel ban preventing foreign nationals who have been in mainland China from entering the country.

Asked how the future looked to her in terms of business, Chatime’s Nicole was relatively optimistic. “I reckon we’ll be back to normal in one or two months,” she said.

Sign outside a Chinese restaurant in Haymarket (Image: Erin Assur)