This post was originally published on this site

“Three weeks ago there were many people here tasting our food, every day we were very busy,” said owner Yuan Wei Ping.

“The quiet started last Monday. I want to cry.”

Waiter Jun Heng served five people at Dumpling King on Monday, down from as many as 40 on a regular day.

Waiter Jun Heng served five people at Dumpling King on Monday, down from as many as 40 on a regular day. Credit:Jason South

The story is repeated right across one of Melbourne’s biggest Chinese precincts.

The streets around Box Hill Central, typically buzzing at all times of day, are much quieter than usual, as customers stay home over fears about the spread of the virus.

At Dumpling King, just around the corner in Station Street, Jun Heng was also standing in an empty restaurant when The Age entered.

Typically, they serve 30 or 40 people for Monday lunch. That had been reduced to five.

“Last week was OK; today is horrible,” the waiter said.

Charming Spice owner Grace Tian summed up the mood as she stood next to her nervously idle staff: “Everyone is quiet, so, we are too.”

A sign on a shop in Box Hill.

A sign on a shop in Box Hill.Credit:Jason South

The ban on people entering Australia from China for two weeks has only made things worse for traders.

Loading

This is usually the period when business picks up as people return from their Lunar New Year holidays to work and study.

Business is down as much as 50 per cent at Roast Duck Inn, where there is sometimes a line out the door during peak times.

On Monday, the regular crack of a cleaver splitting crispy, mahogany-coloured duck was reduced to an occasional bang.

“I think people are not coming to restaurants; they are staying home, not wanting to go outside,” said manager Stephen Ku.

“They are shopping in the supermarket and going straight home, not staying outside too long.”

Business is slow at Roast Duck Inn, says Stephen Ku.

Business is slow at Roast Duck Inn, says Stephen Ku.Credit:Jason South

Mr Ku knew of one yum cha restaurant in Box Hill that had 270 bookings for Lunar New Year but only 50 people turned up.

“They have closed for two weeks,” he said.

A sign on one bakery explained that it, too, was shutting up for a fortnight to protect its staff and customers.

It’s not just restaurants that are affected by the downturn. Mary Ma from Hair Lovers Salon said the phone had stopped ringing in the past week and fewer reservations were being taken online.

Mary Ma from Hair Lover Salon says there has been a drop in bookings since the coronavirus outbreak.

Mary Ma from Hair Lover Salon says there has been a drop in bookings since the coronavirus outbreak. Credit:Jason South

“Everyone knows about the virus; they are just scared to come out,” she said from behind a mask.

“Better to stay home.”

At the neighbouring liquor store in Whitehorse Road, William Yang said the fear of contagion had spread to delivery drivers, with some customers asking for orders to be left at the front door.

He said the area was home to a lot of international students who would normally be returning for the start of the university semester.

Shops are closing in Box Hill because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Shops are closing in Box Hill because of the coronavirus outbreak.Credit:Jason South

As well as the travel ban, Qantas has announced that it will suspend flights from mainland China from February 9 until March 29.

“Usually after New Year they would return,” Mr Yang said. Until the ban was lifted, he said, hospitality businesses would probably not get much busier.

“Most students don’t cook. They eat out a lot and they buy alcohol a lot.”

Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.

Most Viewed in National

Loading