The coronavirus originated in the Chinese region of Wuhan only 3 weeks ago but already it is having devastating effects on Chinese businesses in the province of Alicante where owners are claiming to be suffering losses in turnover of up to 30%.
They say that the numbers of customers are plummeting, thereby affecting retail outlets and restaurants in the area.
Many colleges where Chinese is taught have also suspended classes because they have students who have recently returned from China following New Year celebrations and who are having to undergo quarantine of fifteen days as a precaution, during which time they are not permitted to leave their homes.
Among those Chinese immigrants who speak good Spanish there is calmness, because they are able to communicate, but among those many immigrants who do not speak the language, there is a fear of going out into the street in case they suffer social rejection or some kind of xenophobic attack.
Alessandro Zhou, who runs a business in Elche selling bags, says that he has friends who have said they are concerned, particularly for the welfare of their children who attend local schools. But he adds that there are also many people in Alicante who “ask how we are and tell us that they are very sorry for what is happening.”
In the province there is a settlement of just over 10,000 Chinese immigrants, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), but associations such as the intercultural Alacant-Xina claim that there are many more.
Zhou, one of the few Chinese residents who is not concerned to publicise his name admits, though, that the global alarm caused by the coronavirus is affecting his entire community.
“I have friends and colleague throughout Europe,” he says. “In Spain things are slightly better but the contacts I have in Italy say that when the Italians see a Chinese face, they treat you as if you were the virus, as a result of which some stores have seen their turnover fall by as much as 80%.”
He says that here in the Alicante Province there has definitely been a decline in business because people are afraid. He has colleagues who are very worried because there are members of the public who are afraid of entering Chinese stores. He says they have heard things like: ‘Look, a Chinese shop. I don’t go in because they all have a virus.”
Chinese Business Groups point out that there is no need to be concerned because in Spain there has only been one confirmed case of the virus, many miles away, a German citizen in the Canary Islands.
Zhou said “We have lived here 10, 20, even 30 years, and we are your countrymen. We know you are concerned, but we are doing our best. Everyone who returns from China goes into quarantine for 15 days. They stay at home, for the health of themselves and for everyone else. In these cases they only have contact with family members who provide them with food. Unfortunately the virus originated in China but it could so easily have come from another country.”
Many Chinese restauranteurs are also claiming a dramatic fall in custom with one in Alicante saying that his restaurant, which caters predominantly for Spaniards, is completely empty. “At lunchtime yesterday I didn’t have a single table occupied when, before, during the lunch period, it was usual to serve a dozen or more people.”
He said that people are getting scared and, if the situation continues, he won’t be able to pay his staff or rent the premises. “I also have Chinese friends with large premises and if this continues their businesses won’t be able to survive.”