The strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) that emerged in Wuhan, China, spread rapidly to other areas of the world. The number of confirmed cases in the UK has now risen to 40, and the international number to over 92,000. While the death rate currently remains at approximately 3.5%, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency at the end of January.
There have been reports of racism and xenophobia against those belonging to Chinese citizenship and/or descent as well as those of other East or South-East Asian heritages in countries such as Australia, the US and the UK. In Italy, which has so far had two confirmed cases of coronavirus, there have been calls from the public to avoid Chinese shops and restaurants, as well as the leader of the Santa Cecelia Observatory, Robert Giuliani, asking his Chinese, Japanese and South Korean students to not attend class until they had been checked by a doctor, despite them not having visited Asia in the time frame.
Marco Wong, a councillor for Prato, Tuscany, states, “Unfortunately, one of the inevitable impacts of this illness is xenophobia… There is also a lot of fake news spreading – for example, an audio of an Italian guy claiming that he is in Wuhan and knows of a secret laboratory where this virus was created”
The media has played a significant part in intensifying coronavirus fears, describing the coronavirus as a “deadly infection” and indulgence in xenophobic stereotypes, which is mainly evident in sensationalist media. Probably the most infamous example is Jesse Watters, a Fox News host, who has been criticised for inciting racist stereotypes after claiming on live television that the Chinese “are very hungry people” and are to blame for their ‘unsafe’ eating habits.
Courrier Picard, a French regional newspaper, published articles headlined, “Yellow alert” and “New yellow peril?” Although these headlines resort to ‘old racist stereotypes’, as German Daily observed, the newspaper has since apologised for its shocking statements.
In reaction to these comments, the French citizens of Asian descent have posted pictures of themselves on social media holding up signs reading “Je ne suis pas un virus” which translates to, “I am not a virus”. This same phrase has become a Twitter hashtag to encompass reports of racist incidents all over the world.
Alongside this, other hashtags have emerged, including #coronaracism and #iwilleatwithyou in response to racist events. These campaigns could demonstrate that the world is working towards combatting coronaracism for good. This is even evident in some media, for example Courrier International’s headline appeared as “In France, racism is more contagious than the coronavirus”. Is this an indication that we are beginning to address the political problem of the coronavirus?
While coronavirus is a dangerous disease and everyone should be precautious, it can be done without isolating a particular community. In times of heightened fear, discrimination often emerges, but this shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Whilst we fight this coronavirus pandemic, we should also do our best to fight the dangerous pandemic of coronaracism.