Xenophobia and racism related to the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak

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Map of the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak:
  Region of origin (Mainland China)
  Confirmed cases reported
  Suspected cases reported

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in December 2019, which originated in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, China, has led to increased prejudice, xenophobia, and racism against Chinese and other people of East Asian descent.[1][2][3][4]

On 30 January, the World Health Organization's Emergency Committee issued a statement advising all countries to be mindful of the "principles of Article 3 of the IHR [the International Health Regulations]," which the WHO says is a caution against "actions that promote stigma or discrimination," when conducting national response measures to the outbreak.[5]



On 26 January 2020, two of Australia's highest circulating newspapers published provocative headlines. Melbourne's Herald Sun's headline read, "Chinese virus pandamonium", a misspelling of "pandemonium" and alluding to China's native pandas, while Sydney's Daily Telegraph's headline read, "China kids stay home." One of the outcomes of these headlines was a petition of over 51,000 signatures demanding an apology.[6][7]

At a Woolworths supermarket in Port Hedland, Western Australia, a person reported an incident whereby a staff member removed and refused entry to customers who appeared to be of Asian descent, claiming it was to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. A witness to the incident made a complaint that was upheld by Woolworths who confirmed that the staff member had been in the wrong, apologised for the incident and said they were conducting a full investigation into the incident.[8][9]

Ravenswood School for Girls, a private school on Sydney's North Shore asked a South Korean student to leave her dormitory – even though she had not been to China since visiting Shanghai in October 2019 and was medically cleared when she arrived at the school.[10] Similarly, a Chinese-Malaysian student in Perth found herself evicted from her shared home upon returning to Australia after visiting her home country for Lunar New Year.[11]

There has been a growing number of reports where members of the Chinese-Australian and Asian-Australian communities have been subjected to vitriol and racist slurs, in addition to suggestions on social media to cull the Chinese race and "burn down" China to stop the epidemic.[12][13]

Chinese restaurants and establishments in Sydney and Melbourne have seen a dramatic drop in business, with trade declining by over 70%.[14]

On 28 January 2020, a man collapsed and died of a suspected cardiac arrest outside of a restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown. Unconfirmed viral videos circulating on social media suggest that bystanders refused to perform CPR out of fear of the novel coronavirus.[15]


Local authorities quarantined three Japanese nationals despite them having no coronavirus-related symptoms.[16]


The mayor of Toronto denounced xenophobia toward Chinese Canadians in late January 2020, amid reports of increasing stigma facing that community.[17][18]

On 26 January 2020, Peter Akman, a reporter who was with Canada's CTV News, tweeted an image of his Asian barber in mask and said, "Hopefully all I got today was a haircut."[19] He was fired after the tweet was reported.[20]

On 28 January 2020, an online petition was set up, urging schools to ban Chinese students. A board that represents 208 schools in Toronto condemned the petition, saying that it is inciting racism and bias.[21]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned racism against Chinese Canadians during a Lunar New Year festival in Toronto.[22]

On 5 February 2020, the headline of the front page of The Province, a newspaper in British Columbia, read "2nd China Virus Case in B.C." Chinese consul general of China in Vancouver Tong Xiaoling demanded an apology from The Province, which she said "it is discriminatory and unprofessional". On February 8, Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and The Province, said referring to the novel coronavirus as the "China virus" was a way to geographically locate the origin of the virus, not to discriminate.[23]

Chinese-Canadian businesses in Vancouver have reported a drop in business ranging from 50 to 70 percent.[24] In the Greater Toronto Area, Chinese restaurants have reported a drop in sales ranging from 30 to 80 percent.[25]


On 15 February 2020, during a Croatian Table Tennis Superleague match which was played in Dubrovnik between the local team Libertas Marinkolora and guest team STK Starr from Varaždin, a number of insulting comments were posted on the official Libertas Marinkolora Facebook page towards a Croatian player of Chinese origin, Tan Ruiwu of STK Starr which referenced the coronavirus. This included a comment by the manager of Libertas Marinkolor Marko Habijanec in which he instructed one of his players (who was facing Tan in the next match) to "Beat this virus." The comments were subsequently deleted.[26] Libertas Marinkolor eventually issued an apology and condemnation of the incident.[27]


According to the Embassy of Japan in Cairo, store clerks have been hesitating to serve Japanese customers, and "corona" has also become a new slur with which to abuse Japanese people on the street.[16]


French newspaper Le Courrier Picard featured an Asian woman wearing a mask on its front page on 26 January 2020 with a headline "Yellow Alert".[28] The paper also titled an editorial "A New Yellow Peril".[29] The publication drew condemnation from French Asians who started the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (which translates to "I Am Not A Virus").[30]

Many French-Vietnamese report also being subject to harassment since the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.[31]

South Korean residents have also reported increased animosity toward them.[32][33][better source needed]

Some Japanese nationals have reported an increase in anti-Japanese incidents, such as being mocked on the street and refused taxi service.[34][35] A Japanese actress working for the French company Louis Vuitton received a number of coronavirus-related comments on the company's Instagram page, which the company later deleted.[36] A group of Japanese students on a study tour in Paris received abuse by locals.[16]


The weekly magazine Der Spiegel has published a controversial cover which has been considered by some as blaming China for the outbreak and fueling xenophobia.[37][38][39]

The Chinese Embassy in Berlin has acknowledged a rise in hostile cases against its citizens since the outbreak.[40] On 1 February 2020, a 23-year old Chinese citizen in Berlin reportedly received racist insults and was subsequently beaten by two unknown assailants, in an incident classified by police as "xenophobic".[41]

A Chinese student from Chengdu living in Berlin was given two weeks notice to leave her sublet apartment by her landlord, German actress Gabrielle Scharnitzky.[42] Scharnitzky defended her actions, stating "I had to protect myself against a real possible danger of infection by a person returning from a virus-contaminated area, entering and leaving my home and thus endangering my health and the health of my visitors".[43] The student reportedly informed Scharnitzky of her intentions to visit China in January; although the trip never took place, she was nevertheless evicted.

On 5 February 2020, a Chinese woman in Berlin, who hadn't visited China in 3 months, was reportedly turned away by her gynecologist, claiming that the coronavirus may infect the pregnant women in the clinic.[44] In the same month, a Chinese student in Essen with a sore throat was denied an appointment by a general practitioner over coronavirus fears, despite not having been to China since September 2019.[45] She was instead told to go the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with bronchitis.

Hong Kong[edit]

Tenno Ramen, a Japanese noodle restaurant in Hung Hom, refuses to serve mainland Chinese customers. The restaurant said on Facebook, "We want to live longer. We want to safeguard local customers. Please excuse us."[46]


A demonstration was staged outside a hotel in Bukittinggi, rejecting the visit of tourists from Southern China who stayed there amid fear of coronavirus. The demonstrators demanded that the tourists be isolated in an airport, and showed distrust over screening tools in airports. It ended after police guaranteed that the tourists would stay in the hotel up to the following day, when the tourists depart from the city.[47][48]


Indian Islamic cleric Ilyas Sharafuddin said in an audio address that the coronavirus outbreak was a "punishment of Allah on China for mistreating Uighur Muslims". Ilyas said that "they [the Chinese] have threatened the Muslims and tried to destroy lives of 20 million Muslims. Muslims were forced to drink alcohol, their mosques were destroyed and their Holy Book was burned. They thought that no one can challenge them, but Allah the most powerful punished them." He added that "Romans, Persians, and Russians who were arrogant and stood against Islam," were all destroyed by Allah.[49][relevant? ]

A student from Northeast India was allegedly harassed and called "coronavirus" in Kirori Mal College, Delhi.[50] Eight students from Northeast India at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai alleged that they were subjected to racism and harassment.[51]


la Repubblica reported that the director of Rome's prestigious Santa Cecilia music conservatory, Roberto Giuliani, suspended the lessons of all "Oriental students (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, with Koreans the largest group affected)" due to the epidemic, though most of the students are second-generation immigrants.[52][53]

According to The Washington Post, people especially from South Korea and China have experienced increased mockery and discrimination.[2]

It was posted on social media that a bar around the Trevi Fountain had a sign not allowing entrance to anyone from China because of "international safety measures". It was later removed by police.[54]


In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDontComeToJapan had been trending on Twitter.[55][needs update]

A server at a restaurant in Ito, a Japanese city on the Izu peninsula south of Tokyo, was recorded shouting at a tourist "China! Out!" A Chinese woman, who was the target of the outburst, immediately left the restaurant.[56]

A confectionery shop in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture put up an sign saying "No Chinese allowed!" prompting Chinese netizens to boycott the store.[57]


In February 2020, a conflict broke out between ethnic Kazakhs and Chinese Muslims. According to The Diplomat, "In the hours following the incident, fake news about “ruthless pogroms in Kazakhstan around the spreading of coronavirus” circulated around social media, fueling hysteria in other parts of the country."[58]


A petition in Malaysia calling for citizens from China to be banned from entering the country claimed that the "new virus is widely spread throughout the world because of [their] unhygienic lifestyle".[59] The petition was reportedly signed by a little over 250,000 people within a week.[60]


Dutch news outlet NOS has reported that in many of its own Facebook and Instagram posts about the coronavirus, there has been many "racist, discriminating or anti-Chinese comments". Dutch residents of Asian descent have reported to be called out for carrying the coronavirus during their commute, in the supermarket, in school or on social media.[61]

Dutch radio DJ Lex Gaarthuis presented a Carnaval song named Voorkomen is beter dan Chinezen (Prevention is better than eating Chinese food) on national radio channel Radio 10 under his alter ego Toon, which included the lyrics "We can't have the virus in our country, it is all caused by these stinking Chinese people" and "Don't eat Chinese food". After many complaints were issued against the radio channel and Gaarthuis primarily from the Chinese community in the Netherlands, both of them later made formal apologies (with Gaarthuis saying the song was meant to be satirical but had overshot its mark). A petition has been made in protest of racism against Chinese and other people of Asian descent named Wij zijn geen virussen (We are not viruses), which has been signed 12,000 times within a day.[62][63]

A group of Chinese students living in a student campus from the University of Wageningen discovered that their floor had been vandalised. The damages includes a torn Chinese flag on one of the student's door, an elevator littered with feces and urine, and walls with English-language scribbles such as "DIE CHINESE" and "CHINESE CORONA".[64] The police are investigating this incident, but no suspects have been found so far.[65]

On a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Seoul, flight attendants put up a sign in Korean that passengers were not allowed to use a restroom on the plane allegedly reserved for the flight crew, apparently out of fear of the coronavirus.[66] A spokesman for the airline has since issued an apology, stating "we are deeply sorry that this was viewed as discrimination, which was absolutely not the intention of the crew” and that it is not company policy to reserve specific lavatories for flight crew.[67]

New Zealand[edit]

MP Raymond Huo noted that there were racial abuse incidents in the country's Chinese community. An online petition to prevent people from China from entering the country was signed by more than 18,000 people.[68] In Canterbury, an email was sent to a Chinese-origin student's parent, which reportedly said, "our Kiwi kids don't want to be in the same class with your disgusting virus spreaders."[69]

Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff stated that he was "sickened" by the reports of Asian-origin people being racially targeted at swimming pools, public transport, and restaurants.[70]


Various Filipino-Chinese advocacy groups have warned that racism against the Chinese community has risen after the outbreak has started.[71] The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc and the Trade Union of Congress of the Philippines have condemned anti-Chinese propaganda with links to the virus.[71] Adamson University, a prominent Catholic school in Manila, received online backlash for ordering all its Chinese students to quarantine themselves amid the new coronavirus outbreak.[72]

President Rodrigo Duterte has made appeals to the public to stop discriminating against anyone who has Chinese ancestry.[73]


An online petition urging the Singaporean government to ban Chinese nationals and travellers from China from entering the island country was signed by 125,000 people.[74]

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has ordered an investigation against an Islamic teacher, Abdul Halim bin Abdul Karim, after he had posted on Facebook that the coronavirus outbreak was "a retribution by Allah against the Chinese for their oppressive treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang." In a separate post, Abdul Halim claimed that Chinese people do not wash properly after defecating and were not as hygienic as Muslims, causing the virus to spread. Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam slammed the comments as "silly", "xenophobic" and "thoroughly racist" and is "quite unacceptable from anyone, let alone someone who is supposed to be a religious teacher."[75] The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said it is aware of the post, which "expresses views that do not represent the Muslim community" and was investigating the matter.[76] In response, Abdul Halim said that his Facebook post written in Malay, was not intended to be racist and didn't target "any particular race".[77]

South Korea[edit]

An entrance to a South Korean restaurant in downtown Seoul has a sign in red Chinese characters that reads "No Chinese Allowed".[78]

More than half a million South Korean citizens have reportedly signed a petition lobbying the government to ban Chinese tourists from entering the country.[79]

Sri Lanka[edit]

A group of Singaporean Chinese tourists were apparently denied permission to climb the tourist attraction Ella Rock due to their appearance.[80]


A restaurant in Chiang Mai displayed a sign which read, "We apologize we are not accepting CHINESE customers. Thank you." after a customer left the restaurant upon noticing a group of Chinese people inside. The police demanded that the sign be taken down, but suggested that it could be rewritten in Chinese as "We ran out of food".[81] A similar sign was also seen outside a restaurant in Ao Sane Beach in Phuket.[82]

Graffiti artist Headache Stencil reportedly tweeted, "Hey Chink! Please go back to ur shit-eating country. Our government need ur money to keep their power but you all not welcome for us now. #notwelcometothailand #backtourchinklandpls".[81]


20 February 2020, 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals evacuated from Wuhan to Novi Sanzhary were met by a mob lighting bonfires and hurling stones.[83]

United Kingdom[edit]

Chinese businesses in the United Kingdom, including the busy Chinese takeaway segment and businesses in Chinatown, London recorded significantly reduced customers in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak compared to usual elevated sales related to Chinese New Year celebrations, due to fears of coronavirus spreading through food or unhygienic working practices.[84][85] In London, a student of the Royal Holloway University was verbally abused by train passengers at Clapham Junction station, while a similar incident was reported by passengers on the London Underground;[85] in general, there was a widespread rise in anti-Chinese sentiment reported in all forms of public transport.[86]

On 30 January 2020, a postgraduate student walking alone while wearing a face mask on West Street in Sheffield city centre, towards the University of Sheffield, was verbally abused and nudged by three people.[87]

Tottenham Hotspur footballer Dele Alli posted a video on Snapchat where he wore a face mask and appeared to mock an Asian man seated near him in Dubai about the coronavirus outbreak. He later apologized and deleted the video.[88]

A 24-year old Thai tax consultant in London was violently assaulted and robbed by two teenagers yelling "coronavirus" at the man. [89]

United States[edit]

In an infographic on common reactions to the novel coronavirus epidemic posted by University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley, the school advised that "Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings" is normal.[90]

An eight-year-old boy of mixed heritage was spotted at a Costco in Issaquah, Washington, with a mask and told by a sample-stand worker to "get away because he may be from China."[91][92]

A Thai-American woman on New York City subway was verbally abused by a man screaming about coronavirus.[54] In a separate incident also in a New York City subway, another woman wearing a face mask was punched and kicked by a man who called her "diseased".[93]

Chinatown in Houston faced a drop in customers after people falsely and maliciously spread rumors online of an outbreak of the coronavirus.[94] Restaurants in Chinatown in Boston have also lost customers due to fears of coronavirus.[95] The same has been observed in New York City.[96]

On 13 February 2020, Los Angeles authorities spoke out against a number of bullying incidents and assaults towards the Asian-American community, including a middle schooler being beaten and hospitalized.[97] A 16-year-old boy in San Fernando Valley was also physically attacked by bullies in his high school who accused him of having the coronavirus because he is Asian American.[98] Robin Toma of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission stated: "Many may be quick to assume that just because someone is Asian or from China that somehow they are more likely to be carriers of the virus. We need to speak out against this when we see it. We need to speak up, not be bystanders, be upstanders."[98]

A petition urging schools in Alhambra, an Asian American-dominant city, to close over coronavirus risks was signed by over 14,000 people.[99]

Two Hmong men were rejected from two hotels in Indiana due to being perceived to have the coronavirus by the hotel staff.[100]


Signs suggesting that Chinese customers are not accepted were in seen in front of a shop in Phu Quoc and a restaurant in Danang.[101]

See also[edit]


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