As the fear over the growing numbers affected by the Coronavirus builds, it has also unveiled the underlying racism that was hiding beneath the thin veneer of many Australians.
There are currently over 9,000 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus worldwide, with at least 170 deaths. Currently, there are nine cases confirmed in Australia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency on an international scale. This asserts that the virus is deemed to be of significant threat to countries outside of China, and the announcement of this emergency level ensures that global governments are taking the necessary steps to tackle the outbreak.
Coronaviruses, according to WHO, are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases affecting the respiratory system. Common signs of coronaviruses include mainly respiratory symptoms, fevers, coughs, shortness of breath and more serious breathing difficulties. On the severe end of the stick, the virus can cause pneumonia, kidney failure and death.
There have been other cases of coronaviruses; this is not the first that the world has seen, although most coronaviruses infect animals and there are only 7 strains known to infect humans. Firstly, there’s SARS which evolved from bats to civet cats to humans in China and then MERS which evolved from bats to camels and then to humans in the Middle East. Now we’re seeing the 2019-nCoV strain which no one knows where it originated from as of yet.
The more that scientists learn, according to Vox, the more that 2019-nCoV resembles the flu as opposed to SARS which emerged in China in 2003. However, it doesn’t mean that action should not be taken. We can learn from past epidemics to influence our actions of today.
The big problem arising out of the 2019-nCoV, as well as the deaths, is the consequential racism that is pervading Australia. Chinese Australians have taken to social media to share their experiences with the increase of hostility both in person and online, as people begin to incriminate a race as the perpetrators of a virus. A virus which doesn’t have the ability to perpetuate prejudice. Just to reiterate, it’s a virus, and the human population tends to be the perpetrator of race related hostility and prejudice, not viruses.
The anti-Chinese sentiment has been publicised widely on social media as the general population begins to unveil the racism that was may well have been merely hidden below the surface of their persona. The anti-Chinese attitude is impacting Chinese-Australians daily lives with racist comments and behaviours penetrating Australian society.
Amy* stated that her international Chinese friends have been reluctant to leave their homes due to fear of the public reaction and racist remarks made. Amy, herself, has also been reluctant to leave her own home due to the racism she is surely to encounter, however this hasn’t stopped her from experiencing the racist sentiments online. At a dermatologist appointment, Amy heard the receptionist talking about how Chinese people “don’t understand health messages” and blatantly putting the blame on the Chinese population.
Amy’s brother was also subject to animosity where children at his school yell “don’t come within five meters of me, I don’t want the coronavirus.” This young boy has been bullied by the openly racist comments which are spreading throughout Australia with fear as a catalyst but more so being used as an excuse for racism.
Rhea Liang stated on Twitter, that a patient made a joke about not shaking her hand due to the fear of catching the coronavirus.
Today a patient made jokes about not shaking my hand because of #coronavirus. In front of my team.
— Rhea Liang (@LiangRhea) January 30, 2020
Dr Nadia Alam shared that her son was cornered at school by children who wanted to “test him” merely because he’s half-Chinese.
Today my son was cornered at school by kids who wanted to “test” him for #Coronavirus just because he is half-Chinese. They chased him. Scared him. And made him cry.
I was the same age when I was bullied for being Pakistani.
It’s 2020. I thought things had changed by now… 💔
— Dr. Nadia Alam (@DocSchmadia) January 30, 2020
More incidents are emerging as Australians and the worldwide population begins to associate an unconnected virus with a particular race.
Some far right lawmakers apparently polled their followers, posing the question to Australians whether the country should ban Chinese people temporarily from the country. The media has also perpetuated this racist anecdote with the Herald Sun naming the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” on their front page, which has since prompted over 50,000 people to sign a petition for a public apology from the newspaper.
Social media is only further sustaining the anti-Chinese sentiments, with fake announcements for people to avoid eating particular foods assumed to be Chinese made, like mi goreng noodles – which unfortunately to inform you all are Indonesian – as well as avoiding Chinese populated areas. The fake news is spreading like wildfire through the social networks with the population grasping onto these racist and fake sentiments in their fluster of fear as well as the inherent racism that clearly existed before this outbreak.
Tim Soutphommasane, a former race discrimination commissioner and now professor at the University of Sydney, stated that “racism feeds on fear and anxiety” and “viral diseases don’t have ethnic, racial or national characteristics.”
As the virus spreads, so do the racist statements spreading by word of mouth and on social media.
The next step in Australian governing and management response to the outbreak, is to evacuate Australian citizens living in Wuhan to Christmas Island, formerly and still a detention centre used for the confinement of refugees and asylum seekers.
What is the implication of this action? A detention centre for the quarantine of people already being incriminated in Australia for a virus that holds no link to their race; just a mere misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Dr Tony Bartone stated that Christmas Island is not an appropriate place to quarantine people, both for the resources that will be needed and the consequential views of quarantining people in a detention centre. A detention centre doesn’t evoke the best connotations, coalescent with the fear of the public only further racist sentiments will grow. Jon Piccini, lecturer of history at the Australian Catholic University stated that the current racist rhetoric is reminiscent of a time in Australia’s history when Chinese people were purposely excluded from the country.
“You could read a similar article in the goldfields in 1860s Victoria,” Piccini stated.
The anti-Chinese sentiments are only isolating a community that deserves no such isolation. The 2019-nCoV coronavirus holds no prejudice to a particular race, and the fear induced racism that is emanating as a result off the outbreak is unacceptable, racial discrimination is not the answer during a time of anxiety.
How can we blame people who are not responsible for the viral outbreak? Rational thinking has clearly left the better part of the population, or we are merely seeing the racism that was beneath the thin veneer of many Australians and citizens of the global community.
We must reflect on those who are blaming a community that is not a virus, and the racial discrimination that’s resulting from fear or racist opportunism is only taking our society back 20 steps. We should be looking for ways to manage the outbreak, not to incriminate a population and to further introduce antiquated racist sentiments.
* name changed for anonymity