On New Year‘s Eve, the first case of the coronavirus was detected in China. The World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to several flu-like cases in the city of Wuhan. The next day, a seafood market in Wuhan was suspected of being the center of the outbreak. That market was shut down and sealed. On the 7th of January, Chinese authorities identified the virus called novel coronavirus.
What is coronavirus? According to the WHO, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The common signs of infection according to WHO, include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
The virus became an epidemic in China. By January 30th, the death toll in China was up to 170. On top of that, there were more than 7,500 cases of infections. Cases have been reported to be fast spreading to 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities in big cities in China like Beijing and Shanghai. The virus has also been confirmed outside mainland China. It has now spread in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the US, and UK. On January 30, the first case of infection in the Philippines was confirmed by Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III. According to the DOH “A 38-year-old female Chinese national who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan via Hong Kong tested positive for the virus. She arrived in the country on January 21”. On February 1st, the first death outside China was a 44 year old man in the Philippines.
In Canada, health officials confirmed a third case of new novel coronavirus in Ontario on the 31st of January. The 20-year old woman who arrived from Wuhan began to exhibit symptoms of the virus the next day of her arrival and went to the hospital according to Global News. In Alberta, the province’s chief medical officer of health said that they “tested 18 people for the novel coronavirus since Jan. 1 and so far, they’ve all come back negative.”
Sensationalizing Novel Coronavirus
Before the end of January, millions in China were directly and indirectly affected. In different social media platforms, #Coronavirus, #Outbreak and #Epidemic were trending topics on social media. Hundreds of sensationalized videos of Asian people eating live rats, bats and wild animals and insects coupled with images of “victims” and “people and crisis” flooded the news and even dominated Facebook. There is a sense of panic, fear and even disgust in conversations of the coronavirus in Canada. The sensationalism in the Western media is apparent.
Fear mongering headlines in Western media bombard us with headlines such as Market Watch’s “Coronavirus spreads damage to Wall Street. Could the U.S. economy be next?”, CNN‘s “China says it is ‘sparing no effort’ to curb the virus”, to Reuters‘ “Rapid spread of China coronavirus fuels global alarm” and many more. These headlines create doomsday scenarios that create chaos in different communities.
We are in times that fake news and false information travels at lightning speed. Social media facilitates the rapid spread of fake news, conspiracy theories and rumors, which makes it harder for public health officials to do their jobs in handling the situation and making people safer. False information spreads like wildfire when people are afraid.
The worst kind of virus: Racism
A video has been going around social media since January 30, where a white male in Burnaby BC made comments to an Asian woman about coronavirus. In the video, the woman can be heard confronting the man. The man can be heard saying “I said you dropped your coronavirus!” Since the coronavirus news first came out, there have been reports of racism against Chinese people and mass sharing of xenophobic memes online.
In Market Place News, there was an online petition by some parents in one school district in Ontario. The petition asked the school board to request parents whose children or whose families have recently returned from China “to stay at home and be kept isolated for a minimum of 17 days for the purpose of self-quarantine.”
There is a new wave of racism against the Chinese people. When fear is directed at one minority community, racist beliefs once again resurfaces even among our community. There are international students in Ontario universities that have large Chinese student populations. They were the recent target of fake social media posts that alleged that these students were hospitalized for coronavirus.
Canada has been insensitive to its citizens from ethno-cultural communities and from time to time, it equates Eastern cultures to barbaric practices. The Quebec government has installed a law called “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” targeting the Islamic communities. Sinophobia, has existed since the 1800s, during the building of the railroad across Canada. The Canadian government installed the Chinese Exclusion Act that prevented the immigration of Chinese workers. In recent history, when SARS reached Canada in 2003, killing 44 people in Toronto, Chinese-Canadians felt the brunt of it. The 2004 report: Yellow Peril Revisited led by The Chinese Canadian National Council-National Office (CCNC-National) looked at the impact of SARS on Asian communities in Canada. They found that Asian-Canadians were victims of widespread harassment, alienation and discrimination. Asian-Canadians reported being kept at a distance by other members of the public on transit, in schools and at workplaces.
Filipinos are not immune to the discrimination during these epidemics. The SARS outbreak in 2003 exposed members of the charismatic group Bukas-Loob Sa Diyos during their Easter Mass in April of that year. This was followed by the death of Filipino nurse Nelia Laroza, the first of two nurses that died during outbreak in Ontario. She worked at North York General Hospital.
These major incidents led to the discrimination of Filipinos and the lumping of them with all other East Asians as belonging to one community. As the Chinese people were discriminated against, so have any Asians that came from Southeast Asia. The trauma of racism and discrimination from SARS is now being felt once again.