As Chinese health officials and citizens struggle to contain the coronavirus, people in countries including South Korea, Malaysia, the U.K. and Canada are reporting the spread of anti-Chinese racism, attacks on the country’s cultural mores and businesses with signs saying, “No Chinese.”
The coronavirus, a pneumonia-causing illness that infects the respiratory tract, was responsible for 425 deaths and 20,438 infections as Monday evening, according to China’s National Health Commission.
In the Philippines, a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan — the city believed to be the epicenter of the outbreak — was the first person to die outside China from the virus, health officials in that country announced Sunday.
According to figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are confirmed cases in more than two dozen countries or territories, including Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S., the U.K. and Russia.
On Sunday, New York City health officials said two more patients there were being tested for coronavirus, bringing the total of suspected cases in that state to three.
Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said 5 million people had left the city before travel restrictions were imposed ahead of the Chinese New Year. Ma Xiaowei, the director of China’s National Health Commission, said that the virus had an incubation period of up to 14 days.
The focus on Wuhan, the Central Chinese city where the virus is believed to have been first diagnosed in December, and rumors about whether it began in a food market there, have led to reports of racism against Chinese people and the sharing of xenophobic memes online.
Sam Phan, a master’s student at the University of Manchester, wrote in the Guardian: “This week, my ethnicity has made me feel like I was part of a threatening and diseased mass. To see me as someone who carries the virus just because of my race is, well, just racist.”
“As an east Asian I can’t help but feel more and more uncomfortable,” added Phan, a British citizen. “On the bus to work last week, as I sat down, the man next to me immediately scrambled to gather his stuff and stood up to avoid sitting next to me.”
After five people were arrested in Malaysia for spreading fake news about the virus online, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said, “The government will take action on those spreading fake news to instill fear among Malaysians and incite hatred among the races.”
“Even though we believe in freedom of press, that does not mean the press should agitate people and cause people to be antagonistic towards each other,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post. “We will take action against those people.”
Photos of store and restaurant windows in South Korea and Japan shared on Twitter TWTR, +1.35% reportedly have signs that say “No Chinese allowed.” A cafe near the Trevi fountain in Rome reportedly posted a sign prohibiting “all people coming from China,” the Guardian reported. Social-media users report that similar fear and misinformation spread during the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003.
A video of Chinese vlogger Wang Mengyun eating bat soup went viral along with thousands of comments — and, according to Mengyun, hate mail. But the video was recorded three years earlier in Palau, Micronesia, a Pacific island nation, not in China.
On Twitter, Canadian-based journalist Andrew Kurjata wrote, “Perhaps revealing some naiveté, I’m surprised at the level of vitriol towards Chinese people I’m seeing in the comments sections of stories about the Wuhan coronavirus. And I mean towards the people, not the government.”
An online petition signed by parents in one school district in Ontario, Canada, asked the school board to request parents whose children or whose families have recently returned from China “to stay at home and keep isolated for a minimum of 17 days for the purpose of self-quarantine.”
There were 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state health officials.
On Monday, the Chinese government accused the U.S. of spreading “panic” over the coronavirus by restricting travel to China and evacuating its citizens. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic.”
“It is precisely developed countries like the U.S. with strong epidemic prevention capabilities... that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to [World Health Organization] recommendations,” she said.
Some Wuhan citizens have decried a backlash against them among fellow Chinese. April Pin, a Wuhan resident, circulated an open letter online, appealing to her fellow Chinese to show more compassion and understanding.
“Many of my friends who left Wuhan did not realize [how severe] the situation was,” she wrote in the letter, quoted by CNN. She told the network, “There are too many comments online hurling abuse and denunciation at Wuhan people,” adding, “I feel wronged.”
China has taken major steps to help prevent the spread of the virus. Officials in Wuhan, a city of 11 million residents that is widely regarded as the epicenter of the illness, closed the area’s outgoing airport and railway stations and suspended all public transport.
Chinese officials have expanded that travel ban to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million people, including Huanggang, a neighboring city to Wuhan with 7.5 million people, effectively putting those cities on lockdown.
The city’s marathon, which was scheduled for Feb. 9 and typically attracts 70,000 participants, was canceled. Most of the coronavirus fatalities have been older patients, although a 36-year-old Hubei man died earlier this week, the Associated Press reported. Several major theme parks have also been shuttered.
Phan, writing in the Guardian, appealed for compassion over fear. “It’s important it is to see us in all our diversity, as individual human beings, and to challenge stereotypes. The coronavirus is a human tragedy, so let’s not allow fear to breed hatred, intolerance and racism,” he wrote.