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People walk the streets of Soho and Chinatown wearing face masks in London. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Even before cities began shutting down restaurants and bars, Chinatown neighborhoods around the world were among the first to see a significant slowdown in business — mostly due to consumers' misguided fears about a virus that originated thousands of miles away.

Why it matters: "There's a second virus, which is xenophobia," Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation in New York City, told WNYC last week.

  • Based on trash cans — which are WiFi-connected and can sense garbage volume — as a gauge for activity, Chen estimates foot traffic was down 40%–80%.

Details: In Houston, a false rumor in January about an infected worker in Chinatown caused business to plunge by more than 50%, the owners of Mala Sichuan Bistro told the Houston Chronicle. Members of the kitchen staff have already been laid off.

  • Restaurants in Oakland's Chinatown have cut back hours or temporarily shut down. One owner told San Francisco's CBS affiliate that business was down 90% at dinnertime.
  • Businesses that are staying open barely make enough to pay their utility bills, the station reported.

The big picture: Chinatown businesses felt the pain early, and now the rapid economic slowdown is a serious threat to small businesses and restaurants everywhere.

Go deeper

Updated 22 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) forced Senate clerks to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, which took nearly 11 hours and lasted until 2:05 a.m. Friday. The Senate then adjourned and is expected to reconvene at 9 a.m. to debate the bill before considering amendments.

1 hour ago - Health

Cuomo advisers reportedly altered July COVID-19 nursing homes report

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Seth Wenig/AFP via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's advisers successfully pushed state health officials to exclude certain data on the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths from a July report, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.

Why it matters: The changes resulted in a "significant undercount of the death toll attributed to the state’s most vulnerable population," the WSJ wrote.

Ro Khanna wary of Biden approach on Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.