A virus originating from China exposes blatant racism in America as the US struggles to respond to the coronavirus

John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesMembers of the Asian American Commission held a press conference on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on March 12 in Boston to condemn racism toward Asian Americans because of the new coronavirus.
  • By calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” it attaches an ethnicity to the virus that puts people of Asian descent at risk.
  • As of Thursday, the coronavirus had infected more than 244,000 people worldwide, with the global death toll surpassing 10,000.
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The novel coronavirus first detected late last year in Wuhan, China, is officially called SARS-CoV-2, and it causes a disease known as COVID-19.

Despite the scientific classifications, some people have latched onto a different name for the coronavirus, one with racist implications: “Chinese virus.”

This week, the “PBS NewsHour” correspondent Yamiche Alcindor askedPresident Donald Trump – a regular user of the term – whether he thought “Chinese virus” and the less politically correct term “Kung Flu” might put Asian Americans at risk for racist attacks. The president said: “Not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100%. It comes from China.”

Attaching the virus to an ethnicity, however, has caused people in the US of Asian descent to become targets of racism and xenophobia, with Chinese restaurants temporarily closing because of a decrease in patronage, people being subject to hostile remarks, and, in some extreme cases, some Asians being physically assaulted.

And it’s not just the US where such acts of racism are being reported. An Asian man was assaulted in London as his attackers yelled: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.” The British Chinese filmmaker Lucy Sheen tweeted in February that she was told to go back to China and to take her “filth” back with her.

A Chinese student in Adelaide, Australia, was attacked simply because he was speaking a different language while walking down the street.

Normalizing the association between the coronavirus and those of Asian descent will only cause further divide at a time when fear and distrust already run rampant.

The coronavirus initially was largely referred to by the news media as the “Wuhan coronavirus,” a not-unusual scenario in which a novel virus is colloquially named after its place of origin (though the World Health Organisation issued guidelines in 2015 advocating generic names for diseases). But while the coronavirus may have originated in Wuhan, in the Chinese province of Hubei, it has since made its way to more than 160 countries and territories.

As of Thursday, the coronavirus had infected more than 244,000 people worldwide, with the global death toll surpassing 10,000. It has affected China. It has affected Italy. It has affected Iran, Spain, Germany, the US, and more.

The virus is taking enough of a toll on friends, families, and communities – there’s no reason for racism to add to that.

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