Coronavirus: Spread of 'horrendous' racist incidents against Chinese in NZ on the rise

Chinese community leader says the outbreak of racism related to coronavirus fears is "very hurtful."

Kai-Shek Luey, chair of the Auckland Chinese Community Centre, says since the virus began to spread, he has heard "quite a few" stories of Chinese people being subjected to racism.

In many cases, says Luey, people of Chinese origin are told to "go back home". One person he knows was told that, despite being born in New Zealand and never even having visited China.

"It is hurtful to a lot of people because we feel that we are generally good citizens, obey the law of the land and try and make a positive contribution," Luey told The AM Show on Friday. 

He said it was not uncommon for latent racism to surface in such times and said the community had "experienced it all before", going back to the poll tax placed on Chinese people in the 1880s.

Luey urged people to remember that "we are a country of immigrants", adding "tolerance is important".

Governments around the world have scrambled to stop the spread of coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. At least 565 people have died from the virus so far, with more than 28,000 cases confirmed worldwide, the majority of which are in China.

New Zealand has placed a temporary ban on flights from mainland China and earlier this week evacuated Kiwis from Wuhan.

On Thursday the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed a New Zealander had tested positive for the virus on a cruise ship near Japan. Thirteen Kiwis are on the ship, which has been placed in lockdown, though no cases have been confirmed within New Zealand.

Despite the absence of confirmed cases here, fears it will eventually arrive are sky-high. 

Before the flights ban, some taxi drivers in Auckland refused to work at the international airport in order to mitigate their risk of contracting the virus.

Rotorua Lakes Councillor Fisher Wang has also spoken out against racist and xenophobic remarks against Chinese people in the community. His comments came after three Chinese tourists were taken to hospital in January to be assessed for the virus. All three were later cleared.

Other stories of racism have also surfaced.

One viewer of The AM Show said they witnessed a "horrendous" scene at a supermarket when a woman starting yelling at an elderly Asian woman choosing her fruit and vegetables.

The lady yelled: "do you f****n Chinese people have to touch the fruit and veggies with your hands - why can't you just look with your eyes?" the viewer said.

"It was horrendous, and it made a fair few people uncomfortable and that poor elderly lady scurried off from what she was doing. It needs to stop, this is their home."

The New Zealand Chinese Association has also said it is "concerned that people of Chinese heritage are experiencing harassment and abuse sparked by fears about coronavirus".

"It is not on to harass or abuse anyone because of their ethnicity. Our actions must be based on facts and evidence rather than ignorance," the association's president Richard Leung said.

Luey says apart from the racism that has reared its head, the economic fallout of the virus will be sure to be felt here.

"The situation is very real and we don't know the full impact yet," he said. "It's definitely going to hurt the New Zealand economy because we've relied very much on the trade with China and also the tourism - over 400,000 [people] a year - and that's a big hole for employment."

The fact that some places in China were in lockdown was also bound to have an effect.

"People are just going to live very simply in their houses and avoid contact with other people, they're not going to go out and buy these [New Zealand-made] goods."