Coronavirus: Rotorua councillor slams spread of virus-related racism

Wang says he has seen a number of racist comments online.
Wang says he has seen a number of racist comments online. Photo credit: Getty

As fears mount over the outbreak of coronavirus, there has also been a spike in racism, a Rotorua councillor says. 

Fisher Wang told Newshub that some people are reacting to the virus with xenophobia, making comments that Chinese should people "go back home".

The 19-year-old Rotorua Lakes councillor says he has seen a number of racist comments online and even had people casually joke about the situation to him.

"I get it, a lot of people are scared - and they should be because there's a new virus that's spreading across the world at the moment - but I just feel that this xenophobia and this racism, there's never a time for it, especially during this time when there's this fear around."

Most of the comments were along the lines of people saying "why don't we send them all back from where they came from," he said.

Although some comments were made jokingly, Wang says that's no excuse. 

"It's not a joke - it's a serious issue. It's because of these jokes that communities do feel targetted. And it's really disappointing to see."

His comments come after three Chinese tourists were taken to hospital earlier this week to be assessed after fears they may have been exposed to the virus.

All three were later cleared and released from hospital.

Wang says now more than ever, it is important for the community to offer positive support rather than negativity.

"It's definitely not a time for racism and xenophobia - not that there is a time for it - but this disease doesn't discriminate, anyone can get it. What we should be doing is providing support to one another, not to be making those remarks to each other because that will get you nowhere."

Wang is not the only one to call for cooler heads among fears the virus is spreading. Earlier this week, Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult also reminded residents not to sink to racism.

"It's very unfortunate and the last thing we want is any xenophobic behaviour - saying we're going to stop folk coming here is just plain silly and it's not going to happen," Boult said.

Racism was also blamed for a viral photo of a woman eating bat soup being linked to the cause of the virus.

The image, supposedly taken in Wuhan - the epicentre of the outbreak - was used in thousands of memes and became emblematic of the claimed origin of the virus. 

In an opinion piece for Foreign Policy, senior editor James Palmer took aim at those who jumped on the bandwagon to cast blame at the woman in the photo.

"Images of Chinese people or other Asians eating insects, snakes, or mice frequently circulate on social media or in clickbait news stories," Palmer wrote.

"This time, that was mixed with another old racist idea: that the 'dirty' Chinese are carriers of disease."

The photo was eventually revealed to be taken in Micronesia in 2016, where bats are eaten as a delicacy. 

Palmer said it was time to renew the narrative about the eating habits of foreigners, particularly Asian cultures.

"These prejudices can fuel fear and racism. As the Wuhan virus spreads, the Chinese as a group are more and more likely to be blamed for its incubation and spread."