Singapore—East Asians from all over the world are experiencing discrimination along with the rise in the number of people infected by the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, Hubei, central China, late last year.
To date, over 7,700 people have tested positive for the virus, and the death toll has reached 170. While most of the people diagnosed with the virus are in China, there are 15 other countries where the virus has also been found, including the United States, Australia, Japan, France, and Germany.
In Singapore, there have been 10 reported cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, all of whom from people who have been to China recently. There has been no community spread of the illness, and the government has taken swift action in addressing the outbreak, setting up a multi-ministry task force to tackle the various issues that arise.
However, as the straitstimes.com reports, some Singaporeans are calling for a blanket ban on all Chinese nationals travelling to the country, not only for those who carry passports issued in Hubei, or those who visited the area recently.
A young woman even started a petition “to temporarily stop Chinese nationals and travellers from China from arriving on our shores,” which has since gotten 122,000 signatures in five days.
While fears for health and safety are the biggest reasons people cite for calling for a ban on Chinese travellers, some comments on the petition’s platform, change.org, seem to tend toward a xenophobic slant.
In Malaysia, a similar change.org petition has been signed by over 400,000 signatories in less than a week.
East Asians in France have reported being discriminated against, whether or not they are Chinese or have been to China recently. The Twitter hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (#ImNotAVirus) has begun to trend in the country, with even people of Vietnamese and Cambodian descent reporting a rise in negative attitudes against them.
— Lou Chengwang (@ChengwangL) January 28, 2020
In Canada, citizens of Chinese descent are worried about a repeat of what happened during the SARS outbreak in 2003, wherein the community took an economic hit. The BBC quotes Justin Kong, executive director of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, as saying, “The harm was serious. A loss of income, a loss of jobs, people losing their livelihood, losing their homes. Facing stigma at school, at the workplace.”
when a disease is racialized, you need to know that the every-day racism targeted at folks is bad, and the trauma and anxiety remain. during SARS, the hyper surveillance and containment in public spaces, transit, their workplaces, schools, etc were terrible to live through. 1
— Carrianne Leung (@kayee13) January 27, 2020
As for the United Kingdom, Sam Phan wrote in The Guardian, “In light of current events, we east Asians in the UK are on high alert, paying close attention to how people interact with us. It is not their concern about health that is problematic, but the stereotyping of all east Asians as a coronavirus risk. At times such as this, even a simple bus trip can feel like a hostile environment.
As it spreads, the virus has revealed more and more stereotyped judgments about Chinese people. I have also heard accounts from east Asians, even if they are not Chinese, who have recently been profiled while travelling at airports or on trains due to the ignorant perception that all east Asians are Chinese.”
Discrimination has historically accompanied the fear of sickness outbreaks. Not only for SARS in 2003 but more recently, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 gave rise to higher discrimination incidents against people of African descent. Further back, when HIV was a new phenomenon in the 1980’s, the LGBT community also experienced higher numbers of prejudice and discrimination.
On Monday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that a complete ban on travellers from China because of the virus is not needed at present. On Facebook, former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng echoed this view, writing, “Given the current concentration of cases in Hubei, I think it would be overkill to ban the entire China and all its nationals from travelling here. For example, Shanghai has a population of 25 million. There have been 40 cases, all from Wuhan, and one fatality. Should we ban all 25 million Shanghainese from coming to Singapore?” —/TISG