Coronavirus is a medical, not a racial, issue

Bri Hatch, ’23, argues why xenophobia is the wrong response to a global public health emergency

Brianna Hatch

If you search #coronavirus on Instagram, 356,000 results appear—and the number is only growing. With one swift scroll through the app, it becomes apparent that there are three types of posts surrounding the virus deemed a “global public health emergency” by the World Health Organization on January 30.

There are posts that aim to spread factual information, posts that cry out for sympathy and empathy towards victims and posts that are notably latent with racism. The latter, to say the least, is appalling, disgusting and frankly, something I would have hoped to be outdated in 2020. Clearly, however, that’s not the case—and very few people, it seems, are talking about this issue.

The New York Times reported that there are more than 20,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in China, and likely more waiting to be confirmed due to a shortage of testing kits and people who are unable to be diagnosed due to inaccessible health care. As of February 3, at least 427 people have died, and all but two of these tragic deaths have occurred in mainland China.

The virus has spread to some degree internationally, with the US possessing 11 confirmed cases, and Singapore having the second highest number at 18. Clearly, the virus is highly concentrated in its country of origin. Yet, it is for that exact same country and its people that there is a lack of empathy—instead, there is a plethora of racism and xenophobia.

The hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan is trending on Twitter. Businesses are banning Chinese customers. A newspaper in France published an article with “Yellow Alert” as a headline. According to Forbes, social media displays videos of East Asian people eating live animals, such as bats and frogs.

All of these reactions and more are just “normal,” according to a UC Berkeley Instagram post. The Washington Post reported that the UC Berkeley Instagram published a list advertising “common reactions” to the spread of Coronavirus—including xenophobia.

UC Berkeley has since apologized and removed the post, but the fact that it was even considered acceptable to share for a moment reveals deep-rooted issues in how America, and the rest of the world, is responding to coronavirus.

Instead of perpetuating the idea that it is okay to make assumptions and react with racism, can we focus on spreading facts in a non-biased, non-partisan, non-prejudiced way? The worldwide goal, especially in news media and on social media, should be to provide people with the knowledge to formulate informed and rational sentiments toward coronavirus. At the very least, this prevents the further spread of paranoia exacerbated by racism. At the most, it inspires empathy and sympathy towards those who are suffering.

This is not the first time that panic over a disease outbreak has prompted such disturbing responses. Time Magazine reported that it happened with Ebola in 2014 and the swine flu in 2009. I hoped that we had would have learned from the past and grown by 2020.

Instead, in moments of crisis, some revert back to the all too familiar tendency of creating an “us versus them” dynamic, of finding a scapegoat instead of finding a solution or finding ways to empathize and help.

I believe that we can, and should, do better. It starts on a personal level — by seeking information from reliable sources, and then fact-checking this information. By simply doing research for this article, I was exposed to countless new narratives and updated facts that dispelled a lot of my own misconceptions, assumptions and areas of ignorance.

Let’s be better than we were in the past. We have the tools to do so.