Coronavirus does not justify racism or xenophobia

Photo by @katrinaa

As of early March, there are close to 90,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in almost 60 different countries. Most of these cases (almost 80,000) are in China. Because of this, and the fact that the infection started in China, Covid-19 fears are being used to fuel Sinophobia and anti-Asian racism at large, as well as xenophobia. This is detrimental for so many reasons; racism is always detrimental.

There have been reported cases, particularly in North America, Europe and Asia, of people making racist jokes related to Chinese people and the Coronavirus, putting Asians in quarantine solely on the basis of being Asian, writing racist headlines, refusing to serve Asians, and being violent towards Asians, especially towards Chinese people. There are also rising sinophobic/anti-Asian sentiments in countries outside these regions.

In China, people from Wuhan (and Hubei at large, the province which Wuhan is the capital of) have been stigmatised and ostracized throughout the rest of the country—though Wuhan people are the first victims of this virus and many have complied with the required regulations, there have been incidences of their information being leaked online to have them as "marked people", some cities are offering bounties for each Wuhan person reported by residents, propaganda videos are being spread across the country, and authorities are using computer systems that track IDs to round up people from Wuhan, according to an article in The New York Times

When a person with an illness is stigmatised, they may end up not seeking help in a bid to avoid further stigma and discrimination. The stigmatisation associated with being a Covid-19 patient may lead to people not seeking help, which would not only possibly claim their lives, but also cause further spread of the illness. Infectious diseases are often stigmatised, and this stigmatization complicates disease prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment

The response to this prejudice and racism has been varied. Some have decried it, while others have shrugged it off as something normal to be expected during an epidemic. Others see it as 'sensible and justified suspicion'. However, all is not lost.

Governments and institutions (such as media institutions, schools/universities and health institutions) have a key role to play in ensuring that their policies and directives don't play on racist stereotypes and connotations, and we all have a responsibility to help correct misconceptions. Furthermore, [continuous] public health education should be mandatory and accessible to everyone.

While the Coronavirus outbreak is fear-inducing, it does not justify racism or xenophobia. 

Ideally, better science, knowledge of disease, and media cooperation in promoting public understanding could ameliorate the severity of unwanted events like social disruption or discrimination due to disease. Knowledge of the history of medicine and public health challenges can make a contribution to the understanding of present-day clinicians—as well as the media, which has to cover these issues, and the public, which needs health education. In particular, clinicians in developing countries should be prepared for the challenges of providing care to diverse populations through a deeper understanding of what past caregivers and patients have encountered when disease and discrimination intersected. - Phil Perry, MSJ and Fred Donini-Lenhoff, MA. "Stigmatization Complicates Infectious Disease Management" in AMA Journal of Ethics, 2010, 10(3) DOI 10.1001/virtualmentor.2010.12.3.mhst1-1003