Sat | Mar 28, 2020

NO CHINESE FEAR HERE - Asians say racism hasn’t raised ugly head in Jamaica over coronavirus concerns

Published:Monday | February 3, 2020 | 12:30 AMJudana Murphy and Mark Titus/Gleaner Writers
Anatol Clark Allwood is seen wearing a face mask at the NCB Group annual general meeting held at Spanish Court Hotel last Friday. When asked why, Clark Allwood said that it was a preventative measure against “anything out there”. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus to be public health emergency of international concern.
Anatol Clark Allwood is seen wearing a face mask at the NCB Group annual general meeting held at Spanish Court Hotel last Friday. When asked why, Clark Allwood said that it was a preventative measure against “anything out there”. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the coronavirus to be a public health emergency of international concern.
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Despite global concern surrounding the threat of the novel coronavirus, Chinese nationals working in Jamaica are singing the praises of locals for their support since the December 31 outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

That reaction comes amid growing levels of xenophobia against people of Chinese descent worldwide, with some observers saying that the rise of racist stereotypes harks back to the insularity borne from the SARS viral outbreak more than 16 years ago.

Chinese nationals in Canada, Germany, France, Malaysia, and South Korea have reported increasing incidents of race-baiting since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, with even children being picked on by fellow students as well as by adults.

At least 12 persons, mainly Chinese, are currently under quarantine in Jamaica and at least 19 have been barred from passing through airports here and flown out of the island shortly after.

“I just saw the news that a Chinese student abroad was called ‘Chinese virus’ and attacked in Germany. That is racism, and I feel bad about it, but we are doing okay in Frome, and our Jamaican co-workers have expressed their sympathy to us, their concerns to my family in China and my compatriots,” said Marc Wong, CEO, interpreter, and HR assistant at Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, yesterday.

“We have experienced no hostility, and we are very thankful.”

The Chinese outfit bought out several estates in the divesting of sugar assets a decade ago.

The epicentre of the crisis is believed to have been Huanan seafood market, where the virus spread from animals to humans. Since then, epidemiologists have said that human-to-human contact has been the new vector.

“It is a few Chinese who ate wild animals with the virus who are to blame for the spread of the coronavirus, but all other Chinese are victims just like people who are affected elsewhere in the world,” Wong argued. “... The government has taken every action to control it and, hopefully, it can be resolved soon.”

Approximately 15,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide and more than 300 deaths, according to World Health Organization data, with only one occurring outside of China after a man from Wuhan died in the Philippines on Sunday.

President of the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA), Robert Hew, told The Gleaner that his more than 1,000 members have received relevant communication about the novel coronavirus.

The virus has since spread to Jamaica’s northern neighbours, Canada and the United States, the latter recording at least eight cases.

“The various Chinese groups have been in touch with the ministry, even with the scare at UHWI, to just clarify what was going on,” Hew said.

He was referring to panic last Tuesday over the isolation of a Chinese patient who had flu-like symptoms. Hospital and ministry officials scrambled to call a midday press conference and sought to give the assurance that the symptoms presented by the patient did not fit the case definition of the novel coronavirus.

Hew could not give an estimate of the number of Chinese nationals who travelled to the Orient for the recent Lunar New Year holidays, but said that “some would have scheduled business or other trips, and they would have tried to include the New Year in their trip. They don’t usually go just for a couple days.”

Noting that communication from the health ministry has been circulated in both Mandarin and English, the CBA president said that he did not anticipate language-barrier challenges to affect exchanges between Chinese travellers and local immigration and hospital personnel.

“If there does arise a case where someone has to go in quarantine or has to be treated, there are enough translators available to them if the person does not speak sufficient English,” he said.

Hew urged Jamaicans to avoid being xenophobic towards Chinese nationals.

“It really is who has travelled where recently, but even more important, who has come in contact with someone recently, and that contact can be in any airplane or in any airport,” Hew said.

editorial@gleanerjm.com