Coronavirus: understanding the line between precaution and xenophobia

With the recent and deadly coronavirus outbreak weighing on the minds of almost every American, it is pertinent to remind ourselves not to believe everything we read and hear about coronavirus, especially pertaining to its origins and spread. Whenever an epidemic occurs, falsehoods and fabrications spread even faster than the illness itself. This most recent outbreak is not an exception. 

Rumors popped up left and right about the coronavirus’s origins and transmission, including now a debunked accusation that bat soup, a Micronesian delicacy, was the cause of the epidemic. The lack of an official statement from the Chinese government regarding its source besides that it came from the city of Wuhan, Hubei, only served to further exacerbate the confusion around the virus. The official Chinese death toll for the virus is 491 out of more than 24,000 confirmed cases, and the vast majority of cases in China have been around the province of Hubei, stoking fears that the virus is highly contagious from person to person. The rush to release as much information about the virus as possible actually hurts the general public’s understanding of the outbreak, as myths about the virus spread by shoddy research and second-rate internet sleuthing cause unfounded panic about a new and mysterious disease.

The amount of misinterpreted and downright false information about the virus has revived centuries-old stereotypes about the Chinese. Insinuations about poor hygiene and obsessions with exotic food spread all over the web as harmful rumors about the virus spread. The outbreak also highlighted how quickly some people judge others based on their nationality. As soon as the outbreak became global, signs popped up in businesses around the world barring Chinese people from entering, and two of Australia’s highest circulating newspapers published inflammatory anti-Chinese headlines like “China Kids Stay Home”, to stoke the fires of reactionary xenophobia. The fear surrounding the virus is so severe that even Korean and Japanese people in foreign countries have been the target of discriminatory practices and casual racism. Numerous incidents of racism experienced by Asians living abroad have been reported in the last few weeks, from pedestrians deliberately avoiding walking near Asians to deliberate harassment of them. In the rush to keep themselves safe from the virus, people have forgotten not to judge based on appearances alone, dismissing entire groups of people because of outdated cultural stereotypes that are flimsily backed by isolated coincidences.

However, the resurgence of anti-Chinese racism centering on this outbreak is no reason not to take preventative measures against the virus. After all, a virus geographically based in China warrants a certain amount of wariness concerning people who have travelled there as of late. Not only has the Chinese government placed the city of Wuhan under lockdown, but many countries, like the U.S., South Korea and France, have also placed temporary bans on incoming flights from China in to keep the coronavirus out. Measures like these are a much more reasonable and restrained approach than signs banning Chinese people from eating at restaurants, and the rapid response from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is a sign that the Chinese government is also dedicating resources toward ending the epidemic. Safety takes priority for everyone, and a potential danger like the coronavirus does warrant appropriate actions.

The implications of an epidemic are always negative. Nevertheless, the separation of the situation from the people affected becomes all the more important in a world of instantaneous communication: communication that also enables the combined bigotry of the entire world to coalesce in one place. Jumping to conclusions in cases like these does no good, and the best thing to do is to make sure any response given to this situation is measured, not extreme.

By Jason Wu, Sports editor
Photo courtesy of SISTEMA 12