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Photo by CDC | Dr. Fred Murphy

The coronavirus. We’ve all heard about it. The latest strain that was first detected in Wuhan, China on Dec. 12 has spread far and fast. But spreading even faster than the coronavirus is widespread misinformation about the disease. Small facts are sensationalized into eye-catching stories and uncertain details into unquestionable facts, adding to the growing wall of fear. It’s this uninformed panic that encourages baseless anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination. The coronavirus is a serious health crisis, but we can’t use it to drive us towards hatred and fear. We need to remain well-informed throughout the situation and recognize how to separate a health epidemic from the country and culture where it originated. 

The source of the new coronavirus strain is believed to have originated from a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The virus, which is transmitted between animals and people, has previously not been identified in humans. Although the exact source of the virus has yet to be identified, recent reports suggest bats and snakes as the possible source. The virus, which causes symptoms including fever, fatigue, and sore throat, can be spread through the respiratory system. Since the outbreak was officially announced on Dec. 31, the virus has rapidly spread throughout China. As of Jan. 28, the death toll is at 170 with over 7,000 cases. 

So how has the public responded? With discriminatory remarks and crude, offensive statements targeting the Chinese people. In Canada, only three cases have been confirmed. Yet over 9,000 people signed a petition urging a Toronto-area school board to keep children whose family members recently returned from China out of the classrooms. Businesses in Chinatown are recording a slowdown in growth. The situation in Toronto has escalated to the point where Health Minister Patty Hajdu noted that there is a real risk Chinese Canadians could feel “somewhat targeted” because of the outbreak. Twitter reveals widespread racism and disdain for China. Derogatory remarks belittle Chinese customs and traditions while baselessly calling for bans against Chinese people entering America. 

But these remarks are ignorant to the true situation at hand and China’s quick response to it. Nature Medicine, a science research website, reports that China’s response to the outbreak has been “swift and decisive” and praised China for its “remarkable progress in responding effectively to disease outbreaks.” In just less than a month after the first patient was identified, the government shut down the Wuhan seafood market where the virus is suspected to have originated. The entire city of Wuhan, with a population over 11 million, has already been effectively locked down. China has led massive national and international efforts to solve this health crisis. Chinese scientists and international researchers have pooled together resources to quickly find a solution. In the midst of a crisis, China has remained transparent about the situation and open to collaboration.

In the West, too, extreme security measures are being taken as a precaution. Passengers from China are being appropriately screened before entering foreign countries. Health officials are taking necessary steps to ensure the virus does not spread. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease even stated that “the risk for most Americans [contracting the virus] is low.” 

Yes, the situation is dire and there is an important need to remain cautious. But that doesn’t justify discriminatory attitudes towards Chinese people, culture, and cuisine. In fact, no matter how serious the health threat becomes, it will never justify viewing and treating Chinese people poorly for a virus that is by no means of their own creation or fault. Stigmatizing an entire nation and culture for a health issue that could just as easily have originated elsewhere (due to global connectivity) is morally flawed and circular in reasoning. In this time of global crisis, what we need most is unified cooperation to help fight this health issue, not fear and discrimination. 

When you’re going to class or spending time on campus and hear news about the coronavirus, make sure you reevaluate your thoughts and judgments on the situation. It’s important to keep the health crisis at hand separate from the Chinese people. Don’t act paranoid around your Chinese friend who came back from abroad after winter break. Stop degrading China and discussing its cultures and ways-of-living as though it has any negative connections to the coronavirus. Refrain from allowing irrational fear of the virus to cloud your perception and views of China. 

Credit: Alec Druggan

LARK YAN is a College sophomore from Toledo, Ohio studying Health and Societies. Her email address is larkyan@sas.upenn.edu.

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