Coronavirus: Auckland woman fuming after 'racist' comment

An Auckland woman says she is fuming after a run-in with coronavirus-related racism on Sunday.

The incident comes after New Zealand's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on Friday.

The Kiwi-born woman of Vietnamese descent says she was getting out of her car to go into Chemist Warehouse in Botany when a man in the carpark looked at her directly before saying "watch out for coronavirus".

"He made eye contact as he said it but it was in a tone like he was saying it to his mum in the car," the 24-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Newshub.

After the man - who was in his mid- to late-20s - made the comment, his girlfriend who was also with him immediately told him off, the woman said.

Despite that, the woman says she was "fuming" when she heard what he said.

"I turned around and [said] directly to him 'that was a f***en racist comment'," she said.

"As I walked in I could see them staring at me so I turned round and made eye contact with them again."

Inside the shop, she says she told her boyfriend, who was getting out on the opposite side of the car at the time and hadn't heard the comment, what had happened.

The couple then finished their shopping and returned to their vehicle.

"As we walked out my partner confronted the guy," the woman said, adding that he demanded an apology from the man.

The man's mother first apologised on his behalf, she said, saying her son "didn't mean it that way". 

"My partner said 'well it was offensive and you should have not said it'."

The man then apologised "under his breath", saying "I didn't mean it that way", the woman said.

"I was really fuming from it because I haven't really experienced that type of racism before. I do have a lot of friends who have experienced a lot of it in New Zealand and it just really frustrates me.

"Incidents like these remind me that racism is still prominent. It makes me mad because I consider myself a Kiwi being born and raised here, and I can't imagine what others must experience being Asian immigrants."

By "calling people out" for the comments like this, the woman said she hoped people would "rethink their actions".

The incident is not the first report of racism linked to the virus.

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

In some cases, he said, Kiwi-born Chinese people who had never even visited China were told to "go back home".

Luey called the comments "hurtful" and urged people to remember the importance of tolerance. 

After the country's first confirmed case of the virus was reported last week, many people began to panic, flocking to shops to stock up on items such as toilet paper, bottled water and hand sanitiser. 

Despite the fears many people have, experts have repeatedly urged for calm, saying washing hands with soap and water is the best way to protect yourself against the virus.