News Coronavirus fear leaves China's empty restaurants selling stocks

Coronavirus fear leaves China’s empty restaurants selling stocks

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By Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh

BEIJING (Reuters) – Wang Chuanchao closed his restaurant in central Beijing three weeks ago when fears of the country’s coronavirus epidemic kept customers away. Now all he has to do is sell vegetables on the street to reduce losses.

Wang anticipates crowded tables in his 125-seat restaurant during the lunar new year, saying he has bought 300,000 yuan (nearly $ 43,000) in ingredients ranging from celery to ox-tripe. Now he has to find ways to pay the rent and his employees so that he can do business again as soon as his customers have found the courage to come back.

“We have to help ourselves because we can’t rely on anything else,” said 32-year-old Wang, in front of a stall full of vegetables that would die if it weren’t sold quickly.

“We have to make every effort to reduce our losses.”

Most of the other restaurants were forced to do the same, as demand for the outbreak in downtown Wuhan declined sharply in December. Local authorities across the country have restricted travel and blocked public areas to prevent the spread of the corona virus.

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“We bought 500,000 yuan in food stocks before the new year, but now the fresh vegetables are rotting,” said Liu, a young man who works at The Cheng restaurant in downtown Beijing.

“We threw everything away yesterday.”

A report released this week by the China Cuisine Association says that fear of the epidemic cost the catering sector 500 billion yuan in lost income during the week-long New Year holidays, with 93% of restaurants shutting down.

Other restaurateurs have also spoken publicly about the pain they are exposed to. Jia Guolong, chairman and founder of a leading restaurant chain Xibei, told the Chinese media last week that he could only cover the cost of running his chain of more than 400 restaurants for another three months.

(Reporting by Sophie Yu, Tingshu Wang, Thomas Suen and Brenda Goh; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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