Coronavirus: Fear and stigma in Paris’s Chinatown

The coronavirus outbreak has killed nearly 500 people in China, but its effects are also being felt more than 8,000 km away in Belleville, Paris, one of the city’s two major Chinatowns, where fear of the virus has impacted businesses and left residents facing avoidance and stigmatisation.

France has recorded just six cases of the coronavirus, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year. All patients are currently in hospital isolation wards, according to French authorities.

But that has not stopped fear of the virus spreading to Belleville, where Chinese-run businesses have seen a significant drop-off in trade, according to local Deputy Mayor Weiming Shi.

"Usually, during the Chinese New Year period, merchants normally double or triple their turnover. But at the moment, merchants are only making between 30 percent and 50 percent of their usual turnover," he told AFP.

Some locals admit to avoiding Chinese restaurants and supermarkets over fears of being contaminated.

"I have a greengrocer who is Chinese. I will still buy my fruit and vegetable from him, but nothing else, it scares me," one local told AFP. "Even though I know it's not transmitted through pasta or stuff like that. Yeah, still, it's on my mind."

Others report even more overt forms of stigmatisation.

"My children are mixed race, but it doesn't show," said Donatien Schramm, an expert on the Chinese diaspora and a local tour guide. "And they hear comments every day. It's a guy in the subway getting up because there's a Chinese guy sitting next to him. It's someone raising their scarf because they hear coughing from an Asian person."