Reports of racism against Chinese individuals and those who might be mistaken as Chinese are surfacing as global fear of the coronavirus continues to rise.
From South Korea to France, reports of racism are contributing to a climate of fear and distrust around the response to the virus.
For many of Asian descent living in the west, those fears are leading to feelings of ostracization and isolation.
On a recent trip through an Australian airport, Li Yang, a long time resident of Australia, reports hearing airport security muttering, “don’t breathe” as she walked by.
According to Li Yang, coronavirus fears have only exacerbated distrust against Chinese communities in the country,
“There was already anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia because of the influx of new immigrants in the past few decades,” she added.
WHO declares global health emergency
As the threat posed by the virus continues to grow, countries are taking measures to mitigate their risk.
For now, the number of cases outside of China is still relatively low. As of Thursday, 81 global cases have been confirmed, with zero deaths reported outside of China.
On January 31, however, the World Health Organization (WHO), decided to declare the virus a global health emergency in response to the growing threat.
Despite the modest levels of contraction outside of China, there is concern among WHO officials that countries with weaker health systems could disproportionately suffer.
“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China.” he added.
Spread of misinformation
While the threat of coronavirus is significant, statistics suggest that concerns should be kept within reason, especially outside of China.
According to the WHO, contracting the virus isn’t an automatic death sentence. Many people will only exhibit mild symptoms, and around 20% exhibit severe illnesses, they say.
Only about 2% of recorded cases result in death, although the WHO cautions that many unknown variables could alter that number.
A host of online misinformation, however, is making it harder to keep the public duly informed.
The spread of racially-insensitive memes and other tropes is becoming more prevalent.
There is “more panic, more temptation to blame the outsider … the other,” says Robert Fullilove, a Columbia University professor of sociomedical sciences.