Last night, I witnessed firsthand the effects of what two Canadian mental-health experts are calling "coronaphobia".
I was invited to dine at a Chinese restaurant in South Vancouver—a 45-year-old local business that's normally packed with customers on a Friday night.
But this time, our group of 12 was the only one in the place for the first hour. I only spotted two other tables occupied by the time I left—the vast majority of the room remained devoid of customers.
This occurred just after University of Regina psychology professor Gordon J.G. Admundson and University of British Columbia psychiatry professor Steven Taylor had written an editorial about public fears around COVID-19.
In the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, they state that there's been a "significant psychological impact"—to the point where it's affecting Canadians' behaviour.
Admundson and Taylor also suggest that it's contributing to xenophobia, noting the discrimination that's been meted out against people from China.
There's a virtually nonexistent risk of a British Columbian catching COVID-19 by going to eat in a Chinese restaurant.
So why was the place I visited last night nearly empty? To put it bluntly, local residents are acting irrationally and it's punishing their neighbours.
The extent of public anxiety was detailed in a recent Angus Reid Institute poll. It showed that one in three Canadians lack confidence in their provincial health services to handle an outbreak.
In reality, those with irrational fears about COVID-19 face a higher risk of death by walking across a busy intersection than they'll ever encounter in a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver.
Even on the infinitesimal chance that someone is infected with COVID-19 in B.C., they're unlikely to get very sick.
Keep in mind that 80.9 percent of those who've contracted this disease in China only have mild symptoms.
According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.8 percent have severe infections, and 4.7 percent experience a critical illness.
The death rate from COVID-19 in China is 2.3 percent, with men being more vulnerable than women, and the elderly and the sick being at higher risk.
The fatality rate is well below one percent for anyone under the age of 50 and zero percent for small children.
And the overall death rate is believed to be lower outside of China than inside that country. (For more information, check out the B.C. Centre for Disease Control information page on COVID-19.)
It's not SARS—not even close in terms of its virulence. In late June 2003, the SARS death rate stabilized at around 17 percent in Canada and Hong Kong, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
To their credit, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley, and several Burnaby councillors and provincial politicians, as well as NDP MP Peter Julian, visited the Crystal Mall yesterday to show their support for Chinese-owned businesses suffering the fallout from coronaphobia.
Dix declared that not a single case of COVID-19 in British Columbia has been linked to a Chinese-owned business.
There have only been six confirmed or presumed cases to date in B.C.—and each of those who contracted COVID-19 has been separated from the public.
It's encouraging to see politicians stand up against the economic racism that's resulted from massive media coverage of COVID-19.
But it's going to take more than a visit from elected officials to keep these Chinese-owned businesses afloat in Metro Vancouver.
This weekend if you have the time, why not drop by the Crystal Mall in Burnaby, Chinatown in Vancouver, or one of the many Chinese restaurants along No. 3 Road or Westminster Highway in Richmond?
There are also lots of Chinese restaurants along Granville Street in Marpole and along Victoria Drive.
Many immigrants already face structural discrimination in the job market because their foreign credentials aren't recognized by self-regulating professional licensing bodies.
So some of these immigrants open their own businesses. Now, those from East Asia are getting clobbered by discrimination a second time.
Who could have imagined that going out for Chinese food would ever be viewed as an overt act of antiracism?
Sadly, that's become the reality in Metro Vancouver in 2020.