With the death toll in China from the coronavirus outbreak now risen above 212 and confirmed cases of the virus spread to at least 18 countries, the WHO has declared a global emergency, particularly concerned about an outbreak of the virus in countries that are not prepared for it. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, praised China for its swift response and reporting in reaction to the virus, but the larger concern is the rapid spread of the disease within the country’s borders, with the number of reported cases growing above 6,000 in the province of Hubei where the first cases originated. Nearly 100 cases have been reported in other countries, triggering travel restrictions and strict passenger screening of anyone originating from China, and within the countries borders, travelers faced with a shortage of medical face masks used anything they could find to cover themselves, even using plastic bottles.
Meanwhile, in Europe, French citizens of Asian descent have found themselves facing harsh racism, facing abuse on social media and on public transport. Numerous reports emerged on social media of discriminatory complaints such as “There’s a Chinese woman, she is going to contaminate us, she needs to go home.” The prejudice has not just affected French citizens of Chinese descent, with other victims of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Japanese descent reporting accusations of infecting the French populace. An even more intense response was garnered when local newspaper Le Courier Picard used the inflammatory headlines “Yellow Alert!” with an image of a Chinese woman wearing a medical mask on its front page.
Lou Chengwang appealed on Twitter to call against racial prejudice, stating in French, “I am Chinese, but I’m not a virus! I know everyone is afraid of the virus, but no prejudice please.”
Meanwhile, China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, said Beijing was assessing the situation.
“We are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus. International solidarity is extremely important and for that purpose all countries should behave in a responsible manner,” Zhang said.