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Dec 2, 2021

COVID-19 and the Chinese Community

Tonight on COVID Chronicles, we focus on the Chinese community and how many businesses have either been forced to adapt to new measures in order to stay afloat or shuttered under the weight of the pandemic.  We speak with popular restaurateur Lee Mark Chang and Chinese Association President Johnston Ou for a perspective on business, as well as the vaccination campaign.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

COVID-19 has been a sink-or-swim experience for many in the private sector, including the Chinese community. For some, the pandemic has forced innovation. For others, it has forced them to shutter their businesses. Chon Saan Palace has been a staple in the restaurant industry. With the advent of the widespread virus in 2020, proprietor Lee Mark Chang has had to think outside of the proverbial box to arrive at new ways to serve his loyal customers. The result of those brainstorming sessions is an app that can be used to place an order and have it delivered anywhere in Belize City.


Lee Mark Chang

Lee Mark Chang, Proprietor, Chon Saan Palace

“It’s slow but coming along  Roughly we get about thirty or forty orders a day, but that’s thirty or forty less phone calls and the customers are able to get through much easier.  The app also works much faster in terms of the time, rather than you repeating your address every time, your phone number or sometimes we get it wrong and the order, so you just have to download the app, do a one-time application, put in your email address, your address, your phone number and then after that you’re good to go. Once you use the app properly, ordering is a breeze.”


On the other side of town, Corner Café has been gutted.  What was once a buzzing restaurant and bar at the foot of the Pound Yard Bridge is now just a shell of its former self. Gone are the days and nights that I spent here socializing with friends and family.  Strict COVID protocols and myriad statutory instruments have left the owners of this establishment with no other choice.


Johnston Ou

Johnston Ou, President, Belize Chinese Association

“The widespread of this COVID virus and especially with this six feet distance and with restaurants, I believe, not just Corner Café, I believe [that] all, all restaurants in Belize are suffering with that. So Corner Café is about to close, shut down and well, we have to move on.”


…and that’s what many business owners have had to do.  Johnston Ou, is not only one of them, he is also the president of the Belize Chinese Association.  While the pandemic has adversely affected those in food and hospitality, it has similarly wreaked havoc in retail.  According to Ou, the local Chinese community is being unfairly accused of price gouging when in reality there is a supply chain crisis that many are not taking into consideration.


Johnston Ou

“Business-wise, worldwide the pricing is going up like crazy and everybody feels the pinch of it, but locally, with the Belizean market, many people didn’t have the sense or don’t understand the market, especially with the prices and as a result, the Chinese community is, especially those in business, are getting the most blame about price gouging.  People forget that a majority of the Chinese are retailers and we are not the major importers, especially in groceries.”


Basic food and household items that were once reasonably priced have gone up considerably.  But grocers aren’t alone, those in the restaurant business have also been struggling, not only with shortage of supplies but also with the ever-changing regulations.


Lee Mark Chang

“As we all know, it’s been one year and ten months. I think mostly, the ones affected are those in the food industry, the fast food, the restaurants, those are mostly impacted. Of course, the shorter closing times, the mad rush after people get off work between six and seven and you have to close before seven to make sure your staff gets home before eight.  So it has been some difficult challenge, at least for me, it has been very difficult. One of the main things that I have had to do in the last year and ten months is to adapt. We have a park and order service where customers don’t need to come out of their car, you could pre-order for pick up and then we come to your car and drop off your food for you or you could walk up if you’d like, but our takeout is closed.”


As far as the ongoing vaccine campaign, Chang says that many in the Chinese community are fully vaccinated and their preference of serum is the one manufactured by Sinopharm.


Lee Mark Chang

“I don’t know of anyone from the Chinese community who is not vaccinated yet.  One way or the other they are vaccinated and I believe when they had a vaccine drive for the community, because a lot of them favored the Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, and so when that was made available, I think they had two full days when they were there and they filled up the lines. So I don’t know of any Chinese that is not vaccinated.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Catetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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