Since the wide spread of novel-coronavirus to over 20 countries outside of China, Chinese and Eastern Asian people in the UK are facing increasing racist abuse and hostility as reported both in the Guardian and BBC. Chinatowns across the UK have experienced a sharp drop in business and Chinese students were assaulted on the streets because they wore face masks. There are also many hostile messages on the internet, and even the media uses biased expressions such as ‘China Virus’ and ‘Yellow Alert’.
It is understandable that the spread of a new species of virus will generate public fear. But some misleading information on social media and news platforms is causing the bias that fueled racism. Although many organisations in the UK have started calling for those who have been bullied or harassed to report incidents of hate crime, it is necessary to clarify some of the misconception.
Although the UK government has not recommended the public to wear face masks, some Chinese people have received unnecessary attention when wearing face masks in the UK and racist incidents have been reported in some worse scenarios. People may think that wearing face masks means being ill, thus blaming the person wandering around and increasing the risk of spreading the virus. But actually, wearing face masks does not necessarily mean the person is feeling unwell. In China and many other East Asian countries, it is very common to wear face masks during flu season or to protect again high pollution levels.
One false information shared on news and social media platforms that stood out was a video of a Chinese person consuming bat soup, implying this was the cause of the coronavirus in Wuhan. The video has been widely retweeted, followed by a lot of hostility comments against Chinese people and Chinese food. However, the video was by a Chinese travel blogger from 2016 eating a local bat soup delicacy in Palau, an island in the Pacific Ocean. Also, although the new virus is closely related to one found in bats, it is not yet certain which animal the virus originated from.
Expressions used in some media such as ‘China Virus’ and ‘Yellow Alert’ have sent a message that all East Asian people are carriers of the virus is very misleading and distressing. Chinese and East Asian people in the UK who have not been in China in the last 14 days, are no more carriers than anyone else. They, like everybody else, are equally at risk if they come into contact with an infected person.
The World Health Organisation has described the coronavirus as a global health emergency, and the whole world is working closely to fight against it. The UK government has donated £20 millions to speed up the development of a vaccine. The novel-coronavirus is a challenge for all humankind and it has no national identity. It’s not a Chinese virus, but a virus that is killing people in China and other parts of the world unless we work together to fight it without any prejudice.
By Angela Huang and Xu Zhang