Campaign launches to support Chinatown amid virus fears

BOSTON (AP) — Boston is trying to throw some love to Chinatown amid concerns about a new Chinese virus that has sickened tens of thousands, including a college student in the city.

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Mayor Marty Walsh launched a social media campaign Thursday encouraging people to share photos of themselves supporting small businesses in the neighborhood with the hashtag #LoveBostonChinatown.

The campaign includes a "small business bingo" card of things visitors can do in Chinatown, like trying dim sum, sipping on bubble tea, buying fresh pastries, checking out public art or taking a selfie in front of its signature gateway.

City leaders from Boston and nearby Quincy, which also has a sizeable Chinese community, are hosting a dim sum brunch in Chinatown on Saturday.

And city health officials have been visiting the neighborhood centers this week in an effort to dispel misconceptions about contracting the new coronavirus, which was officially dubbed COVID-19 this week.

The virus has sickened tens of thousands, mostly in China.

Massachusetts has had one confirmed case, a University of Massachusetts Boston student who recently returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.

State health officials have said the patient, who is in his 20s, is recovering at home, where he has been kept in isolation.

Boston is among other cities, including New York and Chicago, that have rallied behind their Chinatowns in recent days.

In Massachusetts, officials say anxiety has also stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment, and the state restaurant industry says there has been a “ sudden and swift ” decline in business at Chinese restaurants, not just in Chinatown.

Chinatown has been noticeably quieter, with far fewer college students and tourists, said Brian Moy, whose family owns China Pearl, billed as the state's oldest active Chinese restaurant.

The annual Lunar New Year parade, which typically draws huge crowds and is a boon for restaurants, was also muted, despite good weather.

“We were filled, but it wasn’t like lines out the door,” Moy said. “You could still get a seat with little wait.”

The city took similar steps to support Chinatown during the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s. That deadly virus, which also emerged from China, turned the neighborhood into a virtual ghost town, and it took months for businesses to recover, Moy said.

Moy said he is trying to cut costs, such as keeping inventory low, until things turn around.

“We’ve weathered storms before,” he said. "Who I feel bad for are the restaurant owners just starting out. It’s not easy or cheap to open a place these days.”