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April 07, 2020 Tuesday 08:22:22 PM IST

'Chinese Virus': Avoiding Xenophobia in Times of Covid-19

Image by Alexandra Koch for

Media has a responsibility to ensure that a nation and its people are not victimised following the outbreak of COVID-19, according to Professor Lucy Taksa of the Macquarie Business School. The labelling of COVID-19 as the 'Chinese virus' by a section of the media and political leaders shows that an 'invisible enemy' is transformed into a visible target with a racist overtone. 
A wave of xenophobia had occurred also in epidemic outbreaks before:-
1) During SARS pandemic of 2003-2003 xenophobia against Chinese was witnessed in Canada as the virus was first reported in China.
2) During 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak Mexican immigrants were seen with distrust and dislike. Mexican nationals and their products were shunned across the globe. 
Throughout history, several instances can be found of scapegoating of distinctive minority groups. Jewish people were singled out during plauge epidemics in Europe during the Middle Ages. During the bubonic plague in Sydney – which spread to Australia from China and India a year before the Immigration Restriction Act, 1901 formalised the White Australia policy – the collective fear of Asia and Asian invasion contributed to mass hysteria that reinforced the mistaken belief that the disease had been introduced to Australia by recently arrived Chinese seamen and immigrants.
The Influenza Outbreak of 1918-19 was given different names in different parts of the world reflecting the prevailing concerns about certain ethnic groups and ideologies. 
The disease was called the ‘Singapore fever’ in Penang and the Bolshevik disease in Poland. In Sydney, the influenza was conflated, first with the bubonic plague, then the ‘Bolshevik pneumonia’ and the NSW General Strike of 1917.
Given the prevailing fears caused by cultural differences and global economic conditions, it is incumbent on governments and the media to minimise the negative social impacts of the coronavirus, according to Professor Lucy Taksa.
Journalists have a responsibility to avoid ‘fanning the flame of panic’ through references to the ‘Chinese virus pandamonium’ and war. Governments have a responsibility that extends beyond preventing the spread of the disease to preventing the spread of stigma and racism.
There was a war of words over Covid-19 by the US President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. US President had called the virus as 'Chinese virus' while Chinese Premier alleged that US army had spread the virus in China.

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