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SCARCE SUPPLIES. Boat passengers on a jetty wear face masks in Bangkok, Thailand, to protect themselves from a new virus infection. Panic and pollution drive the market for protective face masks, so business is booming in Asia, where fear of the coronavirus from China is straining supplies and helping make mask-wearing the new normal. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

From The Asian Reporter, V30, #03 (February 3, 2020), pages 2 & 4.

Asian demand for face masks soars on fears of Chinese virus

By Haruka Nuga and Grant Peck

The Associated Press

TOKYO ó Panic and pollution drive the market for protective face masks, so business is booming in Asia, where fear of the virus from China is straining supplies and helping make mask-wearing the new normal.

Demand for face masks and hand-sanitizing liquid has soared, as both local residents and visitors from China stock up on such products as a reassuring precaution.

Factories are rushing to boost production as the number of infections and deaths from the new virus first found in the central Chinese city of Wuhan climbs. In some parts of Asia, wearing of surgical masks has become mandatory, for now.

"Sales of disinfectant products and hygiene masks have been rising .... First Chinese tourists came to our store to buy these products to bring back with them. They bought in bulk, like two or three boxes per person," said Varumporn Krataitohg, an employee of the NanBhesaj drugstore in central Bangkok.

The outbreak began before the Lunar New Year, when tens of thousands of Chinese tourists visit Thailand, Japan, and other parts of Asia. Demand rose by 80% starting the weekend of the Lunar New Year, said Varumporn.

"Now we are out of disinfectant gel for hands. The maker just sent new lots this morning and by noon we were sold out," she said. "People keep coming and asking for these products."

Japanese often wear surgical masks to protect against colds, flu, or hay fever. Shelves of some stores were scooped bare as Japanese health officials confirmed four cases of the virus.

Christine Yuuki, a 25-year-old tourist from Hefei, west of Nanjing, was shopping in Tokyo for masks for friends and family back in China.

"In China, masks are very expensive," she said, adding that one little pack of masks costs more than 100 yuan ($14). "They are cheaper here and easier to buy."

Iris Ohyama, a major maker of household goods and home appliances, said its mask sales tripled from the week before. It asked some workers at one of its two factories in China to cut short their 10-day Lunar New Year holiday and get back to work, it said.

Stocks of masks ran out quickly at outlets of South Koreaís biggest 24-hour convenience store, CU, at airports, bus terminals, and other transportation hubs.

Sales of soap, hand sanitizer, and mouthwash more than doubled, said CUís parent company, BGF Retail. Overall, though, there were no immediate signs of major shortages in South Korea.

In Taiwan, likewise, the government said there were enough masks and that current daily production capacity of 1.88 million face masks could be boosted to 2.44 million to meet any spike in demand.

At least 10 cases of the virus have been confirmed on the island, which has imposed a month-long ban on exports of two types of surgical masks to ensure theyíll be available.

Everyday use of surgical masks, once mainly confined to Japan and parts of China affected by major dust storms or smog, has expanded in recent years, mainly because of worsening air pollution. In the Philippines, which has reported two cases of the virus, the recent eruptions of the Taal volcano prompted many to wear masks to protect against ash.

Cambodia registered its first new virus case and launched a campaign to give away 1 million masks to people entering the country at Poipet, on its border with Thailand.

Indonesia, Asiaís third-most populous country after China and India, has not confirmed any cases of the virus. At the request of its embassy, itís sending 10,000 masks to China for distribution to Indonesians living there, said Agus Wibowo, a spokesman for the Health Ministry.

In Bangkok, consumers are faced with choosing between N95 masks, which many residents have worn during recent weeks of heavy air pollution, or plain surgical masks that can help block transmission of the virus and are more breathable.

Thailand, a favorite Chinese vacation destination, has 19 confirmed cases of the illness, the second-highest national total outside China.

While some stores were temporarily sold out, especially in places frequented by Chinese tourists, thereís no absolute shortage of masks, said Prayote Pensut, the deputy director general of the Thai Commerce Ministryís Internal Trade Department.

Whether or not masks do much to prevent the virus from spreading, they seem to reassure many.

Wuhan is "pretty much contained," said Ian Zhao, a 30-year-old engineer from Shenzhen who was visiting Bangkokís ornate Grand Palace. So, "you just donít worry about it too much, wash your hands, put on masks, just keep your personal hygiene every day. And itís mostly fine."

Peck reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Jim Gomez in Manila, the Philippines, Busaba Sivasomboon and Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok, Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this story.

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VIRAL EFFECTS. A poster warning about coronavirus is displayed in a departure lobby at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea. Businesses around the world that have grown increasingly reliant on big-spending tourists from China are taking a heavy hit, with tens of millions of Chinese residents restricted from leaving their country as the coronavirus spreads. The sign reads "A new coronavirus occurs in Wuhan City, China." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

From The Asian Reporter, V30, #03 (February 3, 2020), page 4.

China virus outbreak rams global tourism, costing billions

By Elaine Kurtenbach and Alexandra Olson

The Associated Press

Businesses around the world that have grown increasingly reliant on big-spending tourists from China are taking a heavy hit, with tens of millions of Chinese residents restricted from leaving their country as the coronavirus spreads.

Hotels, airlines, casinos, and cruise operators were among the industries suffering the most immediate repercussions, especially with the outbreak occurring during the Lunar New Year, one of the biggest travel seasons in Asia.

What happens in China means a lot more to the world economy than it did when the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak struck nearly two decades ago. In 2003, China accounted for 4.3% of world economic output. Last year, it accounted for 16.3%, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Tourism from China was already down before the virus hit due in part to the Hong Kong protests and the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.

But about 134 million Chinese travelled abroad in 2019, up 4.5% from a year earlier, according to official figures. Before the outbreak, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute predicted some 7 million Chinese would travel abroad for the Lunar New Year this year, up from 6.3 million in 2019.

Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam were top destinations, but Chinese tourists are big spenders in cities such as London, Milan, Paris, and New York.

Economists and tourism industry officials say the biggest threat so far is to Chinaís closest neighbors, with the U.S. and Europe likely to face major repercussions only if the coronavirus outbreak proves long-lived.

In Thailand, a favorite destination for Lunar New Year travel, officials estimate potential lost revenue at 50 billion baht ($1.6 billion). Many drugstores in Bangkok ran out of surgical masks and the number of Chinese tourists appeared to be much smaller than usual for the Lunar New Year. The government announced it was handing out masks, and that the airport rail link would be disinfected.

Spillover is also probable in Vietnam, Singapore, and the Philippines, said Tommy Wu and Priyanka Kishore, of Oxford Economics.

Hong Kong is especially vulnerable because its economy and its appeal to tourists have already been weakened by months of sometimes-violent political protest. By November, inbound tourism to Hong Kong was already down 56% from a year earlier.

The number of visitors from mainland China to the autonomous Chinese gambling capital of Macau was down 80% as on January 26, from a year earlier, a threat to a regional government that depends on gaming revenue.

Gaming and lodging operators in Macau reported higher-than-expected cancellations during the weekend the Lunar New Year was welcomed, as the death toll from coronavirus rose and the Chinese government extended travel restrictions, according to Instinet analyst Harry Curtis.

"Cancellations soared across all of the properties we contacted," Curtis said in a note. "Pessimism rose on how long it could take for business to recover."

Shares of Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, and MGM Resorts International ó which all have operations in Macau ó had declined 18.3%, 14.6%, and 12.1% since January 17, respectively. But analysts said it was too soon to tell how deeply their finances would be affected. Adding to the uncertainty was the possibility that Macauís government could shut down all casinos.

Jefferies, an equities research firm, predicted the virus outbreak would affect first quarter results for the companies "but how large and will it linger onward remain the questions."

Wynn Resorts said it scaled back Lunar New Year events in Macau, began screening the temperature of all guests, and had taken other steps to comply with the directives of the Macau government. MGM and Las Vegas Sands also said they were following government guidelines. The companies declined to provide any cancellation figures in Macau.

More than 14,550 people globally have fallen ill since the coronavirus was first found in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

China extended the week-long Lunar New Year holiday to help prevent the epidemic from spreading.

Travel agencies in China were told to cancel group tourism, and governments around the region were restricting travel from Wuhan, closely monitoring other travellers, and helping arrange evacuations of some foreigners stuck in Wuhan.

The outbreak comes just as hopes were rising that Chinese tourism to the U.S. would start to recover following two years of decline due to the prolonged trade dispute between the two countries.

In 2018, travel from China to the U.S. fell for the first time in 15 years, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, which collects data from U.S. Customs forms. The office had forecast a further decline of 5% in 2019 but predicted a return to growth in 2020 and beyond.

China remains the fifth-largest source of foreign tourism to the U.S., behind Canada, Mexico, the U.K., and Japan. Nearly 3 million Chinese travelled to the U.S. in 2018, spending more than $36 billion.

Tourism industry officials said it was too soon to say whether the outbreak would significantly effect expectations for a recovery, saying much depends on how long the outbreak lasts and if the Chinese government extends travel restrictions to major cities such as Shanghai.

"Anything that goes on for a sustained period of time would obviously have a significant impact," said Chris Heywood, spokesman for NYC & Company, the official tourism organization of New York City. "For us, China is a critically important market."

Heywood said China was the second-largest source of foreign visitors to New York, following the U.K.

Broadway Inbound, which sells group discount tickets for Broadway and other shows, has received a handful of cancellation requests for China-based customers unable to travel due to the outbreak, said Bob Hofmann, vice president of Broadway Inbound. He said ticket sales are normally final but customers affected by coronavirus would get a full refund.

Chinese tourism to other countries has continued to grow in recent years. In Britain, Chinese visitors were second only to Middle East tourists in spending per visit ó about $2,200 on average in 2018. The number of Chinese visiting Britain has quadrupled since 2010.

AP writers Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco and Paul Wiseman in Washington contributed to this story. Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok and Olson reported from New York.

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DEADLY DISEASE. A masked worker cleans a street in the Chinatown district in San Francisco. As China grapples with the growing coronavirus outbreak, Chinese people in California are encountering a cultural disconnect as they brace for a possible spread of the virus in their adopted homeland. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

From The Asian Reporter, V30, #03 (February 3, 2020), page 10.

Virus rattles Chinese communities, new year events cancelled

By John Rogers

The Associated Press

ALHAMBRA, Calif. ó The rapid spread of a new virus from China has cast a pall across Chinese-American communities, with people staying inside whenever possible, wearing medical masks when they must go out, and cancelling some celebrations for Lunar New Year, Chinaís biggest holiday.

Those actions became the new normal last week, when the count passed 12,000 people infected by a new coronavirus that originated in China and spread to other countries. More than 300 have died in China. The precautions were on display in a string of majority-Asian population cities in Southern California ó Alhambra, San Gabriel, and Arcadia ó that are linked together just east of Los Angeles.

"Business is way down. Everybody is staying inside and lots of people are wearing masks," said Leo Peng at Beyond Services in Alhambra, a normally bustling business where people can notarize documents, get fingerprinted, and use other services needed to obtain forms of identification.

Peng himself says he has become diligent about washing his hands and is thinking about getting a mask, "although some people say theyíre really not necessary."

Sitting just a few feet away at a computer terminal was Cynthia Bao, wearing a bright pink mask.

"I never wear a mask, but Iím pregnant, and I donít want to get the coronavirus or the flu or any virus," she said.

In San Franciscoís Chinatown, Hoa Nguyen and her husband were among the few people wearing masks as they waited at a bus stop carrying bags loaded with fruits and vegetables.

"Itís better to be safe than sorry," she said. "In Chinatown, thereís a higher chance you might come across someone who has travelled to China recently."

While people are taking personal precautions, organizers are going a step further by cancelling Lunar New Year celebrations in parts of the U.S.

Sponsors of the annual festival in Alhambra announced they were postponing it indefinitely. The event normally draws thousands and shuts down the cityís main thoroughfare for blocks, featuring a parade, games, music, food booths, and other events.

Other cancellations included a Lunar New Year Temple Bazaar in Flushing, Queens, home to New York Cityís largest Chinatown; a Lunar New Year celebration at a high school in Rockville, Maryland; a Chinese New Year Festival at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and festivities in the city of Elk Grove, outside Sacramento.

San Francisco still plans to go along with its celebration on February 8, though officials said they are closely monitoring the outbreak.

Gregg Orton, national director of the Washington-based National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, said itís understandable that events are being cancelled out of an abundance of caution.

"We want to take this seriously but we donít want to fall back into racism and hysteria at the end of the day," Orton said. "Weíre all in this together."

In Alhambra, many people supported cancelling the festival.

"I think thatís a good idea until we see that the virus is gone," said Richard Vu, who repairs cellphones at a shop on the edge of the festivalís parade route.

He said heís trying to keep his distance from customers and uses hand sanitizer after handling each phone. He usually wears a mask, too, but had forgotten it. When he tried to buy another at a pharmacy, he found they were sold out, a common experience that others cited.

"They say they wonít have any more until March," Vu said.

Pharmacies in Manhattanís Chinatown and other neighborhoods also have reported being out of masks.

Officials gathered at a hotel in San Gabriel, a city neighboring Alhambra, said itís important to take precautions but that people should not panic.

"At this point, we are not in the same situation as China," Dr. Munto Davis of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health told reporters. "We do not have thousands of cases inside the United States."

Meanwhile, a main drag in Alhambra that is lined for miles with upscale restaurants, hipster bars, and tea houses, was unusually quiet this past Friday. A sprawling parking lot, a difficult place to find a parking spot on any day, was only half-filled and business was slow at the huge 168 Market, part of a popular Asian chain of grocery stores.

People seemed to be heeding the advice of medical professionals, being careful but not panicking while expressing hope that others wouldnít blame every Asian person for the outbreak.

"The racism has been something," Bao said with disgust.

"I sort of get it," she added. "Weíre Chinese, and we donít know who has been to China and who hasnít. But you donít need to make remarks about it."

To which Peng added: "I hope everybody would work together and not discriminate against one group of people."

Associated Press reporters Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this story.

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