Several incidents of racism targeting people of Chinese or other East Asian origin were reported on Twitter, with many blaming attempts to politicise the crisis by politicians.
As the world comes to terms with the upheaval caused by the coronavirus crisis, many are responding in familiar and unfortunate ways.
The fact that the virus originated in the Chinese region of Wuhan has not been lost on many who are looking for an easy target to blame.
Since it first appeared in late December last year, the Covid-19 virus has spread globally, infecting more than 220,000 people across more than 176 states, at the time of publication.
The number of deaths is currently close to 9,000 with China, Italy, and Iran leading the pack in terms of fatalities.
While China initially bore the brunt of the crisis, the virus is now firmly embedded in Western states, with the UK and US in particular struggling to form coherent responses.
In many cases reactions to the pandemic have arguably helped the coronavirus establish strong footholds in those countries.
In the UK, the initial response was to experiment with an ill-thought-out ‘herd immunity’ strategy, which was later found to be inadequate in dealing with the crisis.
In the US, President Donald Trump seemed to deny the seriousness of the crisis when an increasing number of cases were being reported in his country.
“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!” He wrote on Twitter on March 9.
This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu” to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) March 17, 2020
Fast forward ten days, and the president has a very different response but one which still deflects the blame from himself and his administration’s response to the crisis.
“The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!” he said addressing Americans from his Twitter account on Wednesday.
The symbolism of referring to the virus as ‘Chinese Virus’ riled up his critics, who accused the Republican leader of racism.
Popular Twitter user ‘Respectable Lawyer’ summarised his thoughts, making the comparison with far-right messaging:
“The whole "Chinese virus" thing reminds me that so much of right-wing messaging can be boiled down to the OK sign: Do something that is obviously flaunting racism but that also has plausible deniability. When people react, play innocent. Right out of Richard Spencer's playbook.”
As an asian American who makes Mac and cheese in my rice cooker, I’d like to say neither I, nor my nainai in China, who would slap me w/a sandal if she knew about the Mac and cheese sitch, are responsible for the virus. This is not an excuse to criminalize ppl from China rn— Kimmy (@kimmythepooh) March 18, 2020
Attacks on Asians
While there is no suggestion that the US president directly incited the incidents, several Chinese and other Asian Americans have reported their experiences of racism linked to the Coronavirus over the past few days.
Nevertheless there has been a noticeable increase in high profile racist incidents targeting people deemed to be ‘Chinese’.
On Tuesday, CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang spoke about how a White House official had used the term ‘Kung-Flu’ around her.
Other incidents were more outwardly aggressive in their nature.
New Yorker writer Jiayang Fan was subjected to racist swears by a man while taking out rubbish in the city of New York.
A young child and his father in the US state of Texas suffered knife wounds when a man tried to kill them earlier this week. Investigators are treating it as a hate crime.
In Australia, a doctor was told to stay away from a child in a hospital because of her Asian appearance.
Twitter was inundated with news reports about other examples of discrimination.
This happened in my hometown Cupertino, CA (near Whole Foods): both Asian restaurants had their glass doors smashed and the American restaurant in the middle wasn’t. If this isn’t a blatant example of a hate crime and xenophobia, I don’t what is.. pic.twitter.com/E7NzeZoZ8J— 🦋 (@lucilleclj) March 19, 2020
For its part the Trump administration has argued that it is only keeping up the tradition of assigning names to viruses based on their origin.
Trump said his use of the term was “not racist at all” and Kellyanne Conway, a presidential spokesperson, told reporters at the White House that terms like ‘Spanish flu’ and ‘West Nile Virus’ were used for previous historic outbreaks.
She later called the accusations of racism an example of “fake media outrage”.
The Coronavirus is believed to have originated in bats kept for slaughter at a so-called ‘wet-market’ in Wuhan.
This theory for its origin has created the idea that Chinese people regularly eat wild and exotic animals.
Many within China have gone to lengths to point out that such eating habits are rare and not highly looked upon by ordinary people.
“My friends and family don’t really like eating wild animals, and we think it’s disgusting,” said one woman who spoke to National Geographic magazine, further describing the habits as “disrespectful and a strong violation to mother nature.”
You see this? Two children and two adults were stabbed at Sam’s in Midland, Texas, bc ppl associate Asians with the coronavirus. Calling it the Chinese virus encourages fear and racism.— Jay Taters 🧢🍟🥔 (@JayPotato1) March 17, 2020
I will hold you personally responsible for every hate crime here on after. pic.twitter.com/UE7mYFN6Fb