Coronavirus: Spreading the disease of racism

By Emma Kirk Martin, BA Japanese

The novel Coronavirus was detected in December 2019, discovered in Wuhan, China. Coronavirus has continued to spread at an alarming rate across 45 countries, infecting more than 80,000 people, and causing over 2,700 deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ on 30 January 2020. 80% of people who contract the illness recover without the need for special treatment. Around one out of every six people become seriously ill, mainly the elderly and those with other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes. Coronavirus can be transmitted to other humans through droplets spread when coughing and exhaling. WHO recommends staying more than three feet away from a sick person.

‘This is clearly pure prejudice, since most of the folks here are second generation Hong-Kong immigrants. They have as little to do with the Chinese outbreak as any other Londoner.’

The media coverage surrounding the spread of the disease has provoked anxiety far beyond the walls of China’s quarantined cities. The racist rhetoric underlying the media narrative has been met with an outraged response by Chinese communities across the world. For example, the headline ‘China Is The Real Sick Man of Asia’, published by the Wall Street Journal on 3 February, fired protest within Chinese officials and civilians who instantly demanded the newspaper apologise for the adoption of ‘sick man’. This is a denigrating expression widely used against the Chinese during the Western colonial era. 

Anxiety and ethnophobia have reached London as well. Thai national, Pawat Silawattakun, was violently attacked by two teenagers yelling, ‘Coronavirus!’. At SOAS, the president of the Chinese music ensemble explains how three of four scheduled performances have been cancelled in the shadow of the media outbreak: ‘Even our annual gig at the Camden Chinese Community Chinese New Year Gala has been cancelled. We’ve been playing there for years.’ The Mary Ward House, the venue of the gala, issued a notice three days before the event that everyone attending the event must be checked at the door for virus symptoms. ‘This is clearly pure prejudice since most of the folks here are second-generation Hong-Kong immigrants. They have as little to do with the Chinese outbreak as any other Londoner.’ It is clear that negative coverage of China will increase prejudicial tendencies and racist attacks will become more frequent until a cure for the virus is found. However, the feelings of the Asian community may take more time to heal.

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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