Racism over coronavirus outbreak is senseless

Why we should focus on disease prevention rather than finding scapegoats

Nathan Gallagher details how students can cope with the pandemic.
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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has a lot of people scared and looking for someone to blame. 
 
We can see this hysteria reflected in the stock market going down, and in people bulk-buying toilet paper, hand soap and other amenities. But most dishearteningly, we can see it in the blame and racism being leveled globally against the Chinese community. 
 
While it’s true that this new outbreak, like the SARS outbreak of 2003, is thought to have originated in China, this is by no means the fault of the Chinese population at large. No one should direct racism toward Chinese students at Queen’s nor perceive them as having any responsibility for creating or spreading COVID-19. 
 
Both SARS and COVID-19 have been traced back to animals in China’s wildlife farming industry where wild animals are held live to be slaughtered and sold on-site. These sites, known as wet markets, are a breeding ground for new viruses.
 
Since the animals are held in close captivity, with many of their cages stacked one on top of another, their bodily fluids and waste pass down onto the animals below. In this way, one infected animal quickly spreads its illness to those around it. 
 
When these animals are slaughtered and sold for consumption, the virus is then transmitted to humans. This is what happened in 2003 when scientists detected SARS in farmed civet cats in a wet market in Foshan, China. It happened again with COVID-19 being traced back to a pangolin and a bat at a wet market in Wuhan. 
 
This raises the question—if these wet markets are known to be a problem site for disease outbreaks, why are they allowed to continue operating? 
 
As a Vox video explains, when the SARS outbreak occurred, the Chinese government shut down the wet markets and banned wildlife farming, only to lift the ban some months later. 
 
The reason for the lift on this ban is that the wildlife farming industry, currently worth around 520 billion yuan (or about CAD $102.75 billion), lobbies the Chinese government to allow continued growth and operation of these dangerous wet markets. 
 
In the Vox video, Peter Li, a professor at the University of Houston-Downtown and an expert on China’s wildlife trade, says “the majority of people in China do not eat wildlife animals.” 
 
Those in China who do consume these wildlife products are a small minority of rich and powerful citizens who do so because they wrongly believe them to have vital health properties. 
 
Historically, China has valued the wildlife farming industry as an effective way for rural Chinese people to lift themselves out of poverty, which is another reason for the government’s hesitance to ban the practice. 
 
Even with bans in place, there are many loopholes that allow the enormous wildlife trade to continue illegally and in secret. 
 
It’s a shame that in the past, the Chinese government has chosen to maintain the dangerous wildlife farming industry at a great risk to their people and to the world at large. That being said, it's senseless to blame the Chinese people for the decisions of the government and a powerful industry, both of which are completely out of their control. 
 
With the outbreak of this new coronavirus, China's government is yet again cracking down on wet markets as it did amid the SARS epidemic. For the sake of global public health, I hope they will not reverse the decision this time. 
Although people are understandably scared about contracting the virus, a previous Journal article by a contributor pointed out that the risk of dying from COVID-19 is low for students and higher for older people and those with weaker immune systems. 
 
As is often the case with racism, the discrimination toward the Chinese community at Queen’s is borne from fear and misinformation. It should go without saying that neither a Chinese person nor a person of any other race is somehow more infectious than another. 
 
If you still feel angry or afraid the next time you encounter a Chinese student on campus, you should investigate why you feel this way. I can assure you that this feeling comes from a place of racial prejudice and isn’t supported by any of the facts about the virus itself. 
 
Coronavirus doesn't discriminate. It can affect all people regardless of their race. The virus originating in China is the fault of the wet markets and the Chinese government that allowed them to continue operating after SARS taught us that the markets were dangerous. It is not the fault of Chinese people in general. 
 
In fact, many Chinese citizens are actually opposed to these harmful wildlife farming practices. If you’re looking to place blame, it’s more sensible to go after those in positions of power, not an entire race of people. 
 
So, instead of allowing this outbreak to inflame our hidden racist beliefs, let’s challenge those beliefs and eradicate them, along with eradicating the virus itself.
 
Nathan Gallagher is a third-year English student. 

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