Coronavirus has killed more than 200 people and infected nearly 10,000 people according to various reports. Though the threat is for now contained in mainland China with only a handful of patients being reported at other countries, WHO has declared a global public health emergency over the fear of the virus reaching countries with insufficient medical support.
Latest reports tell us that nine people have been identified to be infected in Australia. While the virus itself is dealy something far more dangerous – an outbreak of xenophobia is showing signs of re-emergence in Australia. Shockingly enough a newspaper front page has called corona a “Chinese Virus”.
The Australian government is busy preparing plans to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the new outbreak. The countries universities have delayed their exams and people have started using facemasks they had with them courtesy of the bush fires.
While these can be considered as a normal response to any outbreak, at the far end of the spectrum we have some far-right lawmakers polling their followers, asking if Australians should ban Chinese people temporarily from the country. On social media, fake news and similar campaigns are warning people away from Chinese-populated areas, and memes are making light of early reports that the virus jumped from wild animals to humans.
In this age, misinformation can spread like wildfire and especially with the conditions of a viral outbreak that exist today.
“Racism feeds on fear and anxiety,” said Tim Soutphommasane, a former race-discrimination commissioner and now a professor at the University of Sydney. While the virus originated in China, “viral diseases don’t have ethnic, racial or national characteristics,” he said, adding that the misinformation was “alarming.
As scientists are working to find a cure for the disease many fear that the outbreak will perpetuate racial stereotypes that existed in the country. A brief walk back into history reminds us how the Australian government was prompted to ban nonwhites from calling the country their home. We can only hope that the outbreak and misinformation come along with it drag people back into the devils of the past.