In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a social media campaign encouraging Australians to support local Chinese businesses is gaining momentum.
The hashtag #IWillEatWithYou urges people to dine at Chinese restaurants, after several eateries have claimed a slump in business following racism and xenophobia towards Asian-Australian communities.
Community action organisation GetUp! introduced the hashtag over the weekend, asking its supporters: “Can you pledge #IWillEatWithYou & eat at an Asian restaurant to show your support?”
“While other restaurants and public spaces are still buzzing, it is the Chinatown restaurants and Asian grocers that stand empty. Panic around the virus is unfairly impacting Chinese and Asian communities,” the organisation stated on its website.
“If we don’t take action – people will lose their jobs, and their livelihoods. Can you take the pledge to defeat baseless fears and support these businesses in their time of need?”
Australians have begun to show their support, tweeting photos or messages along with the hashtag.
On Sunday Melbourne woman Susie Cole shared a photo of her family eating at a local Chinese restaurant. She also referred to the city’s once-popular Shark Fin restaurant in Little Bourke Street, which recently closed following the coronavirus outbreak.
“Last week our family (Mum, Josie, Mason & granddaughters Poppy & Daniella & me) ate at Harmony(Chinese) restaurant & had no qualms about coronavirus or anything else, but this week, iconic Shark Fin restaurant in Little Bourke St has closed after nearly 40 years & countless other family run Chinese restaurants are in peril because people are avoiding them for baseless fears,” she wrote.
“Please keep patronising the Chinese restaurants you love, please visit fire affected rural communities & spend money there, small businesses need customers to survive. #IWillEatWithYou.”
Last week Gabriel Chan, the owner of Melbourne’s Chinatown restaurant Shark Fin, said he was closing the doors to the 30-year-old eatery after business had suffered.
’’It’s very hard... With customer fears of coronavirus still high, ‘‘we can see numbers reducing’,” he told The Age.
“We’re very sad, very unhappy, but we still have to work, so I would tell the people don’t scare, come to the restaurant, support us.”
Mr Chan also owns sister restaurant, Shark Fin Inn. He said he made the decision to close one of his businesses down in order for the other to survive.
The restaurateur told the publication that customer numbers had dropped by 80 per cent, while more than 40 staff, plus 10 casuals had been let go.
Fearmongering And Misinformation
Many people have expressed concern over some of Australia’s media coverage in relation to the coronavirus crisis, as well as coronavirus fearmongering on social media encouraging people to avoid certain suburbs or Chinese cuisine.
One recent viral message doing the rounds on messaging platform WhatsApp made false claims that there had been three confirmed cases of the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in the Sydney suburbs of Eastwood, Rhodes and Burwood.
Fiona Martin, MP and Federal Member for Reid which includes Burwood, told HuffPost Australia: “There has been a number of social media posts and messages spreading misinformation about the Novel coronavirus.
“As Reid has a large Chinese-Australian community, they have been particularly vulnerable to hoax information causing undue fear or concern. I am encouraging all residents in my area to seek information and advice about the virus from official sources such as the NSW Government Health website and the Australian Government Department of Health website.”
NSW Health also advised that these social media posts were unauthorised, with a spokesperson saying: “NSW Health has been made aware of social media posts being widely circulated warning people to not consume certain foods or visit certain locations in Sydney.
“These posts have not originated from NSW Health nor any entity relating to us.”
It appears the hoax messages mentioned suburbs with a significant population of people with Chinese ancestry. Most recent census data states that 38.4% of Eastwood’s population is Chinese ancestry, along with 44.5% of Rhodes’ population and 45.1% of Burwood’s population.
Australia has 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), five in Queensland, four in NSW, four in Victoria and two in South Australia.