Xenophobia in the midst of the coronavirus


With a new respiratory illness spreading in China and beyond, the World Health Organization has called an expert panel to meet.

Nefsa’Hyatt Brown, Editor-in-Chief

“Please do not let fear or panic guide your actions,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “For example, please do not assume that just because someone is of Asian descent that they have this new coronavirus.”

2019-nCoV, commonly known as the coronavirus, is a respiratory infection that was first identified in Wuhan, China. Classified as an “emerging and rapidly evolving” situation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many health professionals have been working diligently to monitor the spread of the virus. With symptoms resembling a common cold, such as a runny nose, fever, and headaches, the coronavirus is easily spread through close personal contact.

The coronavirus has made its way to multiple locations internationally with various cases confirmed in 28 countries around the world. Noted by the International Health Regulation Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization as a “public health emergency of national concern”, the coronavirus, which has no known cure, has blanketed the world in fear.

As a beta-coronavirus, the coronavirus originated in bats. According to the CDC, the original outbreak in Wuhan, China suggested that humans were contracting the virus from the large seafood and live animal markets located there. However, once people who did not have exposure to these markets began getting sick, health officials declared that person-to-person contact was also responsible for the spread of the virus. In the United States, the CDC has reported a total of 12 positive cases of people infected with the coronavirus as of January 21st. Understanding the seriousness of the coronavirus and how easy it is to spread, The Chicago Tribune reported that universities that have close ties to China, such as Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, are suspending their study abroad programs for students until further notice.

Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, it has become easy for one to use a public health emergency as justification to spread xenophobic rhetoric. On platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, people have begun to make cruel and racist jokes about those of Asian descent. Some people are suggesting that the United States government quarantine all Chinese people until a cure is found; while others have used this as a platform to make prejudicial remarks about Asians. A Canadian physician shared an example where her son, who is half-Chinese, was cornered by students at his school who wanted to “test” him for coronavirus.

Despite the flu still being the more dangerous threat (according to the CDC), the irrational fear tacked to the coronavirus has empowered people to normalize xenophobia. Throughout history, Americans have tended to act irrationally when they are afraid. For example, during World War II, the United States government established internment camps for Japanese Americans out of fear.

However, despite the United States’ history with allowing racism and xenophobia to ensure in the face of fear, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the United States. In Rome, Roberto Giuliani, director of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, told his students from China, Japan, and South Korea that they could not come to class until a doctor had visited their homes to ensure they did not contract the virus, The Guardian reports.

From parents not sending their children to school if they have Chinese classmates to restaurants barring all Chinese visitors from entering, one of the largest impacts of the coronavirus has been xenophobia. As a way to combat this Anti-Asian racism, Chinese residents have begun using the hashtag #Iamnotavirus in hopes of educating those who have been spreading this racist misinformation of the emotional damage they are causing.