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LAST Saturday we marked UN Anti-Racism Day and the 60th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid South Africa. The heroic struggle led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC and the massive show of international solidarity culminated in the defeat of the racist regime in South Africa.
But the most immediate issue confronting humanity today is the outbreak of Covid-19 — and anti-Chinese racism is quite literally costing people’s lives. A distinctly different approach to tackling the virus is being taken in the US and Britain to that of China, South Korea and other European counties, with deadly consequences.
In Britain and the US, instead of learning from China, we are seeing racism towards China. At the time of writing Britain’s cumulative rate of death is exceeding that of Italy, which is so far Europe’s worst affected country, and Boris Johnson’s government is still preparing for the outbreak to last until spring 2021.
As pointed out by Anthony Costello, professor of global heath & sustainable development at University College London and a former director of maternal & child health at the World Health Organisation (WHO), in the Guardian: “The stated government policy is to allow 40 million people to become infected. This could mean 6m hospital admissions, 2m requiring special or intensive care, and 402,000 deaths if the chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty’s 1 per cent estimate of mortality is correct.”
In contrast, on March 18 China reported zero domestic transmissions of Covid-19, from the peak of 3,887 on February 5. This is quite an achievement in just six weeks for the world’s most populous country.
As a WHO report on February 28 stated: “In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease-containment effort in history.” This was achieved mainly by thorough testing and quarantining those testing positive.
At the time of writing the number of those testing positive for Covid-19 in Britain and the north of Ireland is 3,269, with a death toll of 144. However, this government data grossly understates the reality of Britain’s unfolding crisis as the government has decided to limit testing to only those who are already seriously ill.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has attacked this decision to stop testing people with mild symptoms as it essentially means the government is letting the virus spread widely in the community without anyone knowing who is infected.
“You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission,” he said, adding: “Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.”
As many as 100,000 people in Britain could already be infected, a number that the Financial Times reported is the view of Tim Colbourn, associate professor of global health epidemiology at UCL.
Not learning from China is costing lives. And racism is deliberately being whipped up to scapegoat, distract and deflect attention from the woefully inadequate approach to containing the virus and failing to properly financially support people affected by the virus and the looming recession that is almost inevitable.
The virus has had an unprecedented impact on Western share markets. The fall of US share prices into a bear market, a 20 per cent fall, took only 16 days — even more rapid than in 1929.
This is why the US President Donald Trump called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” and failed to condemn use of the racist phrase “kung flu.” Racism in response to Covid-19, by the most powerful man on the planet is likely to lead to racism on the ground.
Since January there have been numerous attacks on Chinese and east-Asian people, including in Britain. Staff in Chinese restaurants and takeaways have been repeatedly attacked. In a particularly horrific incident a woman in Runcorn was hit on the head with a metal pole.
A nurse was assaulted and racially abused by a couple as she walked to work for an overtime shift to help her struggling NHS colleagues. In a video describing the attack, Reizel Quaichon was already “mentally shattered” from “risking her life” working long hours during the Covid-19 crisis when the shock attack happened.
Quaichon and other NHS staff are indeed putting themselves and others at risk, because the Johnson-led government is not ensuring that they have proper personal protective equipment against the virus and are not being tested for the virus, even when caring for those with Covid-19.
Included in the emergency legislation due to be made law next week are measures to empower NHS staff and police to detain those with Covid-19 who break their quarantine — a ridiculous policy if police and NHS staff are not given enough protective equipment and are not being tested themselves.
And further, due to institutional racism, giving the police powers to detain people with Covid-19 could lead to black people being disproportionately detained.
There is no separation between the medical, economic and social impact of Covid-19. Instead of racism towards China, we must learn from China.
All anti-racists have a duty to stand up to the vile racism we have seen in response to Covid-19 and campaign for the government to adopt an approach that saves the maximum number of lives, not put hundreds of thousands of people at risk, and to properly financially support people affected by this crisis.
Sabby Dhalu is the co-convener of Stand Up to Racism.
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