Coronavirus: 'Big spike' in racism during pandemic, Human Rights Commission warns

By Eleisha Foon for RNZ

As New Zealand makes strong progress in eliminating COVID-19, there are also calls to "flatten the racism curve".

The Human Rights Commission says there's been a sharp rise in racism in the middle of the pandemic.

Since the end of March, it has received more than 250 complaints relating to COVID-19 and 82 were race-related.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said there was a particular rise in bullying and harassment of people from Chinese and Asian descent.

The proportion of race-related complaints to the Humans Rights Commission include:

  1. 30 percent Chinese/Asian
  2. 28 percent Muslims
  3. 14 percent Indians
  4. 5 percent Māori and Pasifika

According to the Human Rights Commission, traditionally Chinese/Asians do not normally report complaints due to cultural barriers, which was highlighted as particularly concerning.

Foon said before the lockdown "there was a big spike in racism. It is disappointing and we must also flatten the curve of racism too."

The Human Rights Commission noted complaints of racial harassment were happening online via social media, and indifferent treatment for customers of Asian descent in supermarkets.

He said people should not tolerate the ill-treatment of others and encouraged people to record and report any racism to the Human Rights Commission.

In response to battling racism, the commission is advocating for anti-racism government leadership and continuing to push forward a prevention campaign, Give Nothing to Racism.

Foon had also been in touch with school advisory boards to encourage awareness around their anti-racism campaign and to "keep spreading the message of kindness".

The Human Rights Commission was also proposing a survey for Chinese/Asian to collect data of experiences of racism during the crisis in response to the dearth of evidence. A survey would also capture other racism toward Māori and Pacific people.

He said as the lockdown levels dropped - there may well be an increase again in racism and was concerned about school and workplace bullying related to COVID-19.

"I'm pre-empting that when our Asian kids go back to school there will be an unnecessary blame game. We have been actively associating with the government and schools, keeping them informed."

The commission has made it easier to report racism and discrimination.

Report racism by going online, calling 0800 496 877 or emailing