A 35-word message written in Chinese and spreading like wildfire on WhatsApp is having a devastating impact on certain restaurants in Richmond.
The message claims that employees from five local restaurants caught COVID-19 and "reminds" fellow customers to avoid these spots while dining out.
"None of these claims are true," said William Tse, association director of the Richmond-based BC Asian Restaurant Café Owners Association.
"It's very irresponsible for people to spread rumours during times of uncertainty, especially since the local restaurant industry has already been struggling severely throughout the past two years. We can’t afford any more drama," said Tse.
In fact, Tse released a statement on behalf of his association asking the public to avoid spreading such alarming false rumour.
Benny Ng, an owner of Lansdowne Centre’s Gingeri Chinese Cuisine, told the Richmond News that his cell phone is being flooded with customers asking if any of his employees have COVID-19.
Until Ng's employees alerted him to the WhatsApp message, he hadn’t even realized his restaurant was on the list.
"I feel infuriated and also helpless at this moment," said Ng.
Although Ng said he immediately tried to clarify with customers that his restaurant is safe, the damage was done.
"Unfortunately, the irreversible damage was already there. Many people have called us to cancel their reservations. Our business income dropped significantly within a few days," Ng said.
The worst part, he added, was he didn't even have a chance to explain to many of those customers that the rumour is false.
A manager from Sea Fortune Restaurant on Granville Avenue said rumours like this hurt the whole restaurant industry. And it comes at a particularly tough time, given the approach of Lunar New Year, which is to many Asian restaurants what Christmas is to local retailers.
"It's very, very sad because people don't want to dine out anymore after coming across this fake news," said the manager.
Tse is imploring people to think about what messages they share on social media.
"Everything is just one click away in the digital age - including rumours," said Tse.
“Some people might lose their jobs or even their households when you hit the share button."