SUNSET PARK — With coronavirus fears keeping customers away from some popular Asian eateries and shops in Sunset Park, community leaders banded together on Wednesday, Feb. 19 to discuss the situation.
The latest statistics as of early February show tens of thousands of people worldwide have been infected with the new strain of coronavirus, and many international experts predict that the disease will continue to spread globally.
As of Thursday, Feb. 20, China reported 349 new cases of the virus, the lowest number of infections reported in China in weeks. The cumulative total worldwide is 75,780 individuals infected; at least 2,130 people have died from the virus and there are 15 reported cases in the U.S.
Furthermore, 634 cases of the virus have been reported from passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship; two passengers had died as of Thursday.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer met with Brooklyn Asian-American Civilian Observation Patrol Chair Louie Liu, Brooklyn Community Improvement Association member Rosita Chan, Ray Acevedo of the Village of Sunset Park and other community activists at Park Asia restaurant, 6521 Eighth Ave., to discuss ways to handle the apparent panic keeping diners and shoppers away from restaurants and retail shops in the neighborhood.
The virus outbreak is believed to have originated from contact between humans and animals and was initially linked to a large seafood market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China. More recently, the Chinese government confirmed that the new virus could spread from human to human, adding to growing fears of a massive outbreak.
“My understanding is that people are scared and are staying at home. This is a good time to get the people out and to educate them about the virus,” said Liu.
Stringer agreed. “We need to impart more education and more understanding of what is actually going on,” said Stringer. “So far, in New York City, we have been very fortunate. We deal with the flu season every year, and if you follow the protocols, wash your hands and make sure you’re not sneezing on people, you can go out and enjoy a big bowl of wonton soup and eat your heart out.”
Liu said that a number of restaurants have been forced to close during the week due to a lack of customers. In fact, at dinner time, the restaurant they were meeting in had only a few patrons. Liu was also concerned about the seafood markets in the neighborhood that were losing customers, including canceled orders from restaurants they would normally supply.
“Not only are the restaurants suffering, but the people who deliver goods are suffering, and it’s not only the Asian businesses, it’s the entire community. Everyone is just afraid of coming into the neighborhood,” said Liu.
“Look around you. This restaurant should be packed with diners,” added Liu. “Some restaurants are now closing on Monday and Tuesday because of lack of business. A restaurant two blocks away that seats 700 people is closed. People are not coming in to eat because they’re afraid, meanwhile there have been no known cases of the coronavirus in the Sunset Park community.”
The civic leaders discussed the possibility of getting low-interest loans or grants to help the small businesses that are suffering. “I’ll take your suggestions back to the Small Business Administration and the de Blasio administration, depending on how long this is going on,” said Stringer. “We can’t lose our businesses, and people still have to pay rent.”
Stringer called the issue a small business crisis. “We need to educate people and let them know that they should be out and be part of the community like they always have,” Stringers told this paper.
“And the reason I’m here today with my friend Louie Liu and activists in the community is because we want to support our small businesses. This is a time of crisis for them. People are not coming out, people are not on the streets and we want to make it clear that we believe in the small businesses, but we also love the food. So when you don’t go out, you don’t eat well. We have to make sure we support our wait staffs and our owners. That’s what New Yorkers do. We rally around our community,” added Stringer.