Recently United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the “tsunami of hate” that is being witnessed in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. There may indeed be a spike in the number of hate crimes and xenophobia globally, taking a uniquely ugly shape in each country it poisons, but much of these resentments were already in place before the pandemic unleashed itself. The seeds of division were planted long ago, and have seen the sudden rise of populist leaders who capitalised on divisive sentiments to come to power. As people now search for scapegoats to pin the collective blame on, racism and paranoia have only intensified. In particular, Chinese and Asian-descent people have been the target of verbal harassment and physical assault. In the US, a man from Myanmar and his young children were stabbed by a teenager who thought they were “infecting people with the coronavirus”. In Australia, a video surfaced of an unruly woman kicking and spitting at two sisters of Asian descent. In Italy, racist graffiti appeared overnight, and in one video, an elderly Asian couple are being followed by a man with a camera, calling them “filthy” and “disgusting”. On the other hand, in China itself, African immigrants were subjected to racism after being accused of carrying the virus. In India, Muslims have been repeatedly targeted, attacked, humiliated, and in some instances, barred from entering their homes and villages. In Bulgaria, the Roma community cited discrimination after facing stricter lockdown measures.
To make matters worse, the misuse of technology and the rapid spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories have led to minority groups being singled out for violence. Mr Guterres particularly voiced his fears about the increasingly rabid anti-immigrant sentiments, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, but also extended his concerns to various professional communities who are on the front lines of the battle against the virus: journalists, healthcare practitioners, human rights activists and aid workers. Then there is the stigmatisation of sickness, with Covid-19 patients being subjected to cruel and careless words and ‘jokes’, increasing their sense of isolation and helplessness. With the virus continuing to claim victims at an alarming scale, it is shameful that, even in these desperate times, better sense has not prevailed. The pandemic presented an opportunity for unity, collective action and the recognition of our shared humanity. Instead, the world is as divided and unkind as ever.
In particular, Chinese and Asian-descent people have been the target of verbal harassment and physical assault. It is saddening to witness some incidents where people from some region or community were being blamed for spread of Covid19.