Outbreak continuing to spread fear and racial profiling worldwide
SYDNEY As the deadly coronavirus spreads worldwide, Asian communities are finding themselves subject to suspicion and fear.
When a patient on Australia's Gold Coast refused to shake the hand of her surgeon, Dr Rhea Liang, citing the virus that has killed hundreds, the medic's first reaction was shock. But after tweeting about the incident and receiving a flood of responses, the respected doctor learnt her experience was all too common.
There has been a spike in reports of anti-Chinese rhetoric directed at people of Asian origin, regardless of whether they have visited the centre of the epidemic or been in contact with the virus.
Chinese tourists have reportedly been spat at in the Italian city of Venice, a family in Turin was accused of carrying the disease, and mothers in Milan have used social media to call for children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.
In Canada, a man was filmed telling a Chinese Canadian woman "you dropped your coronavirus" in the parking lot of a local mall.
The incidents are part of what the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine has described as "misinformation", which it says is fuelling "racial profiling" where "deeply distressing assumptions are being made about 'Chinese' or 'Asian-looking' people".
Dr Rob Grenfell from Australia's science and research agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, said: "With outbreaks and epidemics along human history, we have always tried to vilify certain subsets of the population."
"Sure it emerged in China", he said of the coronavirus, "but that is no reason to actually vilify Chinese people".
In a commentary for the British Medical Journal, Dr Abraar Karan warned this behaviour could discourage people with symptoms from coming forward.
Dr Claire Hooker, a health lecturer at The University of Sydney, said the responses from governments may have compounded prejudice.
The tiny Pacific nation of Micronesia has banned its citizens from visiting China altogether.
"Travel bans respond largely to people's fears," said Dr Hooker, and while sometimes warranted, they often "have the effect of cementing an association between Chinese people and scary viruses".
She said studies in Toronto on the impact of the severe acute respiratory syndrome showed the impact of xenophobic sentiment often lasted much longer than the public health scare. - AFP