KITCHENER -- Some local Asian restaurant owners say they’re struggling to stay afloat because of fears over COVID-19.

Eric Wang, a server at Sam’s Chinese Kitchen, remembers that the restaurant was almost completely empty for the entire day when the first case was confirmed in Waterloo Region.

“It was like a ghost town,” he said. “But for a restaurant.”

They say business began slowing down in February when reports of the outbreak in China started escalating.

“The revenue is just half of what it’s used to be,” said Wang. “Yesterday was a thousand and usually that’s what we get by lunch hour.”

He adds that the revenue has substantially dropped since the global spread.

“It’s probably close to 60 to 70 per cent nowadays,” said Wang. “It keeps getting worse. Before it was like ‘hey how much profit can I make?’ Now it’s like, ‘can I not lose money on this specific day? Can I just break even and keep going for this period of time?’”

Sam’s has cut down on the number of lunch and dinner shifts to save on costs.

Chao Bistro in Guelph is also citing COVID-19 fears for a drop in sales.

“The business go down almost 90 per cent,” said chef Bill Nguyen. “[If it continues to slow] we’ll have to close the restaurant.

“We don’t have enough money to survive, I have to pay rent, pay for a lot of stuff like that.”

The Waterloo Region Chinese Canadian Association is working with restaurants to ensure they’re safe places to dine.

“We’ll see how they do the precautions, extra measurements, sanitizers, and how the food is in store,” said Jane Hu, the president of the association. “We want to educate it’s not about fear to this virus, because we have to fight together.”

The association hopes to leave the restaurants' staff knowledgeable about the danger of misinformation and racialized stigma.

“Public health checks restaurants,” said Nguyen. “If it’s good then it’s good and if it’s not good they’ll shut us down.

“We should not be afraid to come in now and enjoy our experience.”

The one reported COVID-19 case in Waterloo Region was a woman who had travelled to Italy. She is currently in self-isolation.

Region of Waterloo Public Health says the overall risk of contracting COVID-19 in the area remains low.