Chinatown eateries
suffer from rampant
SARS misinformation

State health officials stress Hawaii
has no confirmed SARS cases

By Craig Gima

Kwok Wah Chan looks around his nearly empty restaurant in Chinatown and laments that his business has dropped in half since Friday.

The owner and chef of the Glowing Dragon Restaurant says false rumors are spreading that he or someone at his restaurant has the sometimes fatal illness known as SARS.

"They say I have two sons getting sick and I'm sick, too," he said. "It's not true. I don't have any sons, only one daughter."

Similar rumors are being spread about other restaurants, including the Legend Seafood Restaurant in the Chinese Cultural Plaza, where nightly business has dropped in half since last weekend.

"There are so many rumors. They are all targeting restaurants with good business," said manager David Chui.

The rumors, some coming via the Internet, appear to be spreading faster than the disease itself. SARS rumors have also hit Chinatown businesses in Boston and New York.

SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, is a flulike illness with no known cure that has infected 2,700 people and killed 106 people globally.

Yuk Pang Law, an immigration counselor and community leader, said she is afraid if the rumors continue to spread, people will stop coming to Chinatown.

"People spread the rumor, and the victim actually is all of us," Law said. "This kind of rumor we should stop."

James Yan, publisher of the Hawaii Chinese News, a free Chinese- and English-language newspaper, said he is putting out a special edition today to address the rumors.

"These rumors, maybe they affect the whole Chinatown," he said. "This is an emergency, so we need to clarify this."

Despite SARS rumors affecting a Honolulu Chinatown restaurant, this Kekaulike Street marketplace was bustling yesterday.

Since Monday the state Health Department has issued information about SARS to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and to Chinese-language media emphasizing that there have been no confirmed cases in Hawaii and that no restaurants or businesses have been closed because of the disease.

Health Department Information Specialist Laura Lott said the department started getting numerous calls about the rumors on Monday. There are so many calls that the department issued a memo yesterday to all employees emphasizing that if anyone asks they should let people know that there have been no confirmed SARS cases in Hawaii.

Lott said she fields eight to 10 calls a day and tells callers that if they have spread the rumor, they should let everyone they have told that the rumors are false. "I think it can really hurt the reputation of the business, especially because the rumors are so far-fetched," she said.

Lott said none of the possible SARS cases on Oahu involve restaurant workers. She added that the rumors seem to change and evolve every day.

"It does amaze me how far-fetched this can get and how it's grown," Lott said.

At the Oahu Market in Chinatown, merchants have heard the rumors and say many of their customers are talking about them. So far, stall owners at the market say the rumors have not affected business.

But many did not want to speak about them with a reporter because of fears that the rumors will spread further and hurt their businesses.

"Don't write about this," said one stall owner, who would not give her name.

"I'm scared," said Hazuko Nakazato, of Nakazato Fish Market, who added that she is afraid both that the rumors may be true and that it may affect her business.

Like many Chinese business owners, the Glowing Dragon's Chan has a statue of Guan Gong, a deified Chinese general famous as a protector of businesses. Chan lights incense every day as an offering to Lord Guan to ensure his business prospers.

State Health Department
Centers for Disease Control
Hong Kong Department of Health

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