Understanding the Coronavirus

Noelle Hor

Since December, the world has been wracked with a contagious new virus. The “2019 Novel Coronavirus”, or simply the coronavirus, has spread from Wuhan, China, to 27 other countries and territories. At the time of the writing of this article, the “novel coronavirus” has infected nearly 60,000 people worldwide, and has caused 1,367 deaths. Because the outbreak originated in Hubei province, most of the cases and deaths are in mainland China.

This epidemic is disastrous and shows no sign of stopping soon. It is a legitimate worldwide health concern, and unfortunately, not much is known about it. Yet, there is another problem emerging with the rise of the coronavirus.

In tandem with the virus is also a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment. A new Wikipedia page has been created recently to document the xenophobia and racism connected to the Wuhan the coronavirus outbreak. With much speculation going around, I wanted to take time to inform others about what exactly is going on.


1. The Bat Soup Video

The viral video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup has sparked a barrage of racist memes attacking Asian food as “dirty”. However, most people do not know the actual context of the video, and falsely assume it is related to the coronavirus. The woman in the video is social media influencer Wang Mengyun. The video was taken nearly 3 years ago in Palau, a small Pacific island near the Philippines. This is over 2,000 miles away from Wuhan, where most of the cases are.


2. Deadliness

While the coronavirus has caused tens of thousands to be affected and more than a thousand to die, only about 2.5% of those infected have died. Additionally, in comparison with other pathogens, the coronavirus is not as deadly as some may think. As of right now, the flu, or influenza, has caused 10,000 deaths in the US alone. Additionally, only 19 million were infected. But, because there is so much unknown about this new virus, the extent of the full damage it can cause is still uncertain.


3. Xenophobia and Racism are Revealing Themselves

Because this outbreak originated in China, many are blaming the Chinese and are using the epidemic as an excuse to voice their racism. Some cases of racism are more moderate, but there are others that are more extreme.

UC Berkeley’s health Instagram account stated xenophobia against Asian people is “normal reaction” when creating a post 2 weeks about the virus (since then the post has been taken down and UC Berkeley has apologized). Another instance involves a student from UC Santa Barbara creating an online petition on change.org that whose goal is to “Close UCSB temporarily before one of us dies from the coronavirus.” Other students at Newcastle University have been verbally harassed by other students. Furthermore, a local newspaper in France, called the Courrier Picard, published an editorial titled “Yellow Alert” that described the new “yellow peril”. This offensive term dates back to the late 1800s, and was used to condone racism against Eastern Asians.


The association of Asians with dirtiness and disease is not a new idea in American history. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, during the Third Plague Pandemic in China, inaccurate and racist depictions of Chinese Americans circulated around the U.S. They were associated with the disease even though they were nowhere near the outbreak. The panic that Americans felt then, and are feeling now, caused the US government to burn 38 acres of Chinese homes in Honolulu.

Giving in to the hysteria is not the way to go about this, and this outbreak should not justify racism. It is absurd that there are large amounts of people who fall for the same prejudiced beliefs about Chinese Americans, when we should have already learned from the past. There is a danger in reviving old racial stereotypes that will affect innocent people who are not in any way associated with the virus. I understand the panic people feel, but it is wrong to attack others based solely on the way they look. Instead, we should all rid ourselves of the any racial stereotypes and be more kind to those who are facing discrimination.