Coronavirus: Diners urged to rally around UAE's Chinese restaurants

Business owners report a significant decline in customers as unfounded fears keep customers away

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - March 09, 2020: Owner Mohammed Younus Aziz. Chinese restaurants in UAE see decline in sales due to coronavirus outbreak. Monday, March 9th, 2020 in Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

UAE residents “shouldn’t be afraid” of eating Chinese food because of the coronavirus, restaurant owners have said.

Outlets across the country have reported a sharp decline in sales as the impact of the outbreak continues.

Many restaurants in the China Cluster of International City in Dubai said they had been hit hard by Covid-19 fears.

The virus originated in Wuhan, eastern China, in early January, and has since spread globally with more than 110,000 confirmed cases - though 70 per cent have now recovered.

All of our ingredients are purchased from Dubai and we don't have any staff who has travelled to China since the outbreak

“People are scared of getting sick,” said Belle Wang, manager of the Quanjude Restaurant in International City, which has lost 80 per cent of their customers.

“They don’t want to eat Chinese food because they’re scared it’s been exposed to the virus.

“All of our ingredients are purchased from Dubai and we don’t have any staff who has travelled to China since the outbreak.”

Mohammed Yousuf, owner of the Zam Zam Suyi eatery in International City, said his business had also suffered a dramatic drop in customers.

He said the restaurant always followed strict food sanitation guidelines and that diners had no cause for alarm.

"Before, we had about 200 customers daily and now there are less than 140 every day," Mr Yousuf told The National.

“Our regular customers are coming in, but we aren’t getting any new customers. I think people have that fear in their minds that it’s Chinese food and it’s been exposed to the virus somehow, but that’s not at all the case.

“When new customers come in and they see an empty Chinese restaurant, they get even more scared and leave.”

The outbreak of Coronavirus continues to have a major economic impact globally.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 09 MARCH 2020. Zam Zam Suyi restaurant in China Cluster, International City. The owner of the restaurant, Mohammed Yousuf. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Sarwat Nazir. Section: National.

The World Bank has already pledged $12 billion in emergency aid to help developing countries contain its spread.

International stock markets, meanwhile, have also seen huge losses, with the FTSE on course to suffer its biggest fall since the 2008 financial crash.

Mohammed Younus Aziz, the owner of Wuhan Restaurant in Sharjah, said he was considering changing the outlet’s name.

He said one in 10 customers ask him if his restaurant has any chefs from China, or food items that have been exported from there.

“We serve international food and Indian-Chinese cuisine,” he said. “We only have this name because we wanted to have that Chinese theme.

“We had no idea this would happen. People are making jokes about it, taking photos of the restaurant but I’m worried. We’ve seen a decrease in customers.”

Dr Sneha John, a psychologist at Lifeworks Holistic Counselling Centre in Dubai, said the public’s anxiety over their health was unfounded paranoia.

“It’s become a stereotype that anything to do with China can infect you with the coronavirus,” she said.

“Because of the scare that’s going around and the increasing number of cases, it’s creating panic and health anxiety, so people are trying their own methods to keep them satisfied and feel safe.”

She said her advice to the public was to follow safety guidelines issued by health authorities.

“It’s not just Chinese restaurants people are avoiding, they are also starting to stay away from Italian restaurants because of the number of cases there,” she said.

“Instead of avoiding restaurants, what will really help is following the advice of health authorities.”