The first time the Coronavirus alert came up, it was just given that name, “Coronavirus”. The only reference made to Wuhan was that it was first reported there. Days later, some people started referring to it as “Wuhan Virus”. But obviously that didn’t go down with the Chinese authority so that name died down shortly after it emerged. Or rather, it went into dormancy, waiting for the right time to resurrect. But all these were before the large exportation of this disease from its main domain.
As the death toll of this deadly ailment rises to above 1000, WHO decided to give it another name that will prevent its connection to any geographic location, animal or individual, as well as to differentiate the virus from other strands. For that, they gave it the name – COVID-19. This name is going to help to prevent any form of stigmatisation on any individual, race, animal or country. The WHO decision goes in line with what the organisation stated in 2015, where they declared that diseases should not be named according to their originating locations in order to avoid stigmatisation.
However, this change of name did not stop the spread of the disease, nor reduce its death rate. This means that the more people contracted this disease, the angrier they become. Truth is that people started asking questions concerning the origination of this disease and learnt that it came, one way or the other, through contact with wild animals. This seemed to anger them the more because they started accusing the Chinese of contracting the disease through their queer diets; in fact everyone was blaming China for COVID-19.
Just some days ago, Donald Trump, the United States President, made a public speech, where he referred to COVID-19 as “Chinese Virus”. This brought uproar from many people, who saw his comments and reference as prejudicial. They called him a racist and accused him of stigmatising the Chinese. Despite the uproar, Trump unapologetically used that term (Chinese Virus) severally in his Twitter posts within that day. He later said that he had to use the term so as to remind everyone of where the killer-disease came from since the Chinese government was already circulating false information, claiming that the virus was brought to Wuhan by the US military. So it looks like China threw the first stone without remembering how fragile its glass house was.
But Trump wasn’t the only one reminding the Chinese that they were to blame for COVID-19. A peep into Wikipedia on the discrimination of the Orients as a result of COVID-19 will show you that different parts of the world have been discriminating against these people since January. From the statistics Wikipedia gathered from several reports, the Chinese, South Korean, Japanese and even the Indian citizens face stigmatisation and xenophobic attacks in several countries of the world. Some Chinese businesses, especially restaurants, in these countries have shut down because of lower patronage. Some schools were reported to have evicted Asian students, even those that have not visited China for some years. There was the case of an Asian that collapsed in front of a restaurant and died of suspected cardiac arrest because none of the people standing by wanted to perform a CPR on him since they were afraid he might be infected with coronavirus.
So today, anyone with Orient features is at risk of being blamed by people for COVID-19, most especially as it is believed that they didn’t warn the world before the virus started spreading.
But then, these ugly monsters known as stigmatisation, discrimination and xenophobia are not only reserved for the Asians. Anyone that coughs, sneezes or clears his throat receives immediate queer look and distancing from the people around him. Just recently, a young man was beaten to death in Kenya because they suspected him of having the virus. This is to show how deep this illness has damaged the peace and tranquillity in our societies.
It will be hard to stop the natural reactions people have towards this disease because, as my people say, only a tree will hear that it will be killed the next day and still maintain its position. The fear caused by COVID-19 is affecting more than the economy; it’s affecting our social lives too. No one can socialise in peace these days. People are uncomfortable staying in the midst of others. So it is just natural for people to want to distance themselves from those suspected of being infected by the virus.
However, blaming and attacking people are way out of line. Yes, it is in human nature to be angry; but acting out of anger is what needs to be discouraged.
Branding COVID-19 as “Wuhan Virus” or as “Chinese Virus” should be discouraged too, because it will not end well. But then, the Chinese government should also stop their blame game because it will only increase aggravation against their people. Where the COVID-19 originated from shouldn’t be the concern of the leaders today, but how to curb it.
NB: Since WHO has declared that names of diseases should not refer to geographic location, individual or animal of origin, why do we still have “Lassa Fever” and “Ebola”? How come WHO has not given them other names just as it did COVID-19?