In recent weeks, the newly emergent strain of coronavirus has sparked worldwide panic; coronaviruses typically originate in birds, but can evolve to affect humans and spread from one person to another. Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses that include the common cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia, but there are more aggressive strains, such as the most recent one, known as 2019-nCoV, that is currently impacting a number of countries. 2019-nCoV, formerly known as Wuhan coronavirus after the Chinese city of Wuhan, may cause shortness of breath and high fever, but also severe respiratory infection that can lead to death.
As international panic began to rise, President Xi Jinping issued a statement last week that China was fighting the “devil” sickness as a nation; the death toll has since gone on to pass 1,100. The United States has issued plans to conduct screenings in up to 20 airports on arrivals from areas affected by the virus, and is considering implementing further travel restrictions. U.S. Secretary of Health, Alex Azar, told Reuters that “all options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions.”
From the European Union to Japan, nations have begun implementing evacuation plans, while Hong Kong, which has been the platform of a great deal of anti-China tension for several months, has begun suspending rail and ferry travel to and from the mainland. Countries have also started the process of removing representatives and diplomats from Wuhan, the city where the outbreak was traced to; it is in Central China and has a population of over 11 million people. The United States sent an aircraft to remove its consulates on Wednesday, and the European Commission has funded two planes to remove EU citizens from the area as well; about 250 French nationals exited on the first flight.
The World Health Organization (WHO) head Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has since met with Xi Jinping regarding how to protect both Chinese nationals and the rest of the globe from the dangerous outbreak. Chinese national news quoted Xi as saying that “the virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide.” He also added that “China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention … China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.” The United Nations later said that China approved the arrival of a team of World Health Organization officials into the country to conduct research to better understand the virus.
As the outbreak has progressed globally, numerous world leaders have extended their support to China in dealing with the spread of the disease, including U.S. President Donald Trump. President Trump said in a statement that the U.S. would provide “any help that is necessary,” and tweeted: “we are in very close communication with China concerning the virus…very few cases reported in USA, but strongly on watch…we have offered China and President Xi (Jinping) any help that is necessary…our experts are extraordinary!”
Shortly after this, Trump began recommending the implementation of travel restrictions from China, and one of his top economic advisors stated that the outbreak of the coronavirus would be helpful in “bringing jobs back to the U.S.”
In addition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s offers, the European Union Commission has said that it will provide assistance to China if it is requested, and that it is at the nation’s disposal should they need help in their efforts to tackle the novel strain of the coronavirus. Taiwan has also offered its assistance, but has imposed stricter travel bans on people entering from certain regions of China.
Despite an overall response of offers of aid from various sources, concern for increased spreading of the disease continues to rise. On the other hand, several nations have had news outlets reporting incidents of racially-charged violence towards Chinese people, corresponding to the increased news coverage of the novel virus. The United States, Canada, and the European Union have had news outlets and non-governmental groups express concern for the growing anti-Chinese sentiment and spiking xenophobia as the disease spreads.
An independent French paper published an article entitled “Yellow Alert,” alongside an image of a middle-aged Chinese woman wearing a paper mask over her mouth and nose. While the newspaper reportedly issued an apology and stated that they did not intend to “perpetuate racist stereotypes,” this type of incident is not an isolated one.
In Canada, there have been several reports of Chinese children being the targets of bullying and harassment in schools following the news coverage of the disease. Toronto mayor, John Tory, spoke this week about the coronavirus panic: “Standing with our Chinese community against stigmatization and discrimination…we must not allow fear to triumph over our values as a city.”
In the United States, reports of racially-charged harassment have been filed on several college campuses. One confirmed case of the coronavirus was found at Arizona State University, and both international students from China and American students of Chinese descent have reported feeling judgement from their peers. In their statement addressing the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Los Angeles last week, the Los Angeles Health Department said that “people should not be excluded from activities based on their race, country of origin, or recent travel if they do not have symptoms of respiratory illness.” Journalists and members of the community alike have expressed concern that racist commentary towards people of Chinese descent and acts of discrimination have the potential to escalate into severe, blatant violence.
While panic over a rapidly spreading epidemic is justified, the outbreak of racism and xenophobia that has been documented in a number of nations is a cause for concern. Although offers of monetary assistance and ensuring that China is aware that they have the disease research professionals of other nations at their disposal is beneficial, nations must also denounce the prominence of discrimination in the wake of the coronavirus and the potential for violence towards Chinese people.
While the concern for the continued spread of the novel coronavirus and ignorance surrounding the origins of the illness continues to breed anti-Chinese sentiment, state and national governments have done little to denounce racist commentary and call out independent publications, such as the one in the aforementioned French newspaper, that perpetuate incorrect information regarding how the disease spreads, how it came to be, and the level of danger that people are actually in based on their proximity to the source of the outbreak. In order to ensure the safety and well-being of their people, it is imperative that nations prioritize speaking out against discriminatory rhetoric. It is also important for local, state, and national governments to issue publications on rapidly spreading diseases such as the coronavirus. These publications should provide information that people can use to keep themselves and their families as healthy as possible, but should also address basic facts of the disease so that the violence that has been perpetuated by anti-Chinese rhetoric can be diminished. A great deal of the rhetoric that has been spreading along with the coronavirus has been related to an ignorance of the disease, which could be solved by a spread of basic knowledge on the matter through government programs.
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