Coronavirus: dread and discrimination in Italy

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Photo courtesy of the UD Rome and Summer Program

In Milan, Italy, An Asian-American student at the University of Dallas was enjoying her semester abroad when she decided to indulge in some Japanese cuisine. She entered a Japanese restaurant with hopes of enjoying a nice sit down meal. 

Minutes into her meal, the waiter approached and explained to her that her meal was free. At first, she was quite excited to learn of her complimentary meal, but quickly she realized there must be a catch. 

The waiter explained to her that she needed to leave the restaurant because of the recent news regarding coronavirus, making her presence in the restaurant bad for business.

“I have never felt racism at this level, from one Asian to another,” said Tiffany Han, a student currently on her semester abroad in Rome,regarding the aforementioned restaurant experience.

“Although I am not of any Chinese descent, I feel the hatred and fearfulness the public has towards me as Asian,” Han said. “They have zeroed me out and reduced me to only my race without even bothering to address me as a human being.”

COVID-19, or better known as coronavirus, has taken the world by storm in recent weeks. Since the virus’ discovery in late December/early January of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 83,000 cases worldwide. Of those 83,000 infected, more than 2,800 have lost their lives. On Jan. 30, the WHO declared coronavirus a global health emergency.

As many people know, the outbreak of the virus originates from Wuhan, China, the capital of the Hubei Province. 

Coronavirus has spread all around the world, and Italy has become the fourth most affected country with a total of 650 cases and 17 deaths. Because of this, Italy, like most countries, is on high alert over the spread of coronavirus. 

The virus is spreading quickly, but aside from illness, coronavirus is also spreading rampant fear across the world. 

I can admit that I am afraid of this virus, and I can imagine that many of my other peers and fellow Americans are also afraid of what will happen next. 

However, does this fear warrant discrimination? 

Absolutely not. 

As the virus originates from China, Asians like Han face negative treatment for the way that they look. For many people, fear often overrides morality. 

People tend to associate the infection with anyone who looks Asian, for fear that they could be from China and have a greater chance to infect them than anyone else.

For example, in Ukraine, a bus carrying evacuees from China was viciously attacked by protesters, who lit bonfires and threw stones at its passengers. None of these people were infected. These people were victimized by others simply for being of the same national origin as this virus.

In a crisis such as this one, it is important that we remain united as a people, and offer aid and care to those who need it. Acting blatantly racist and xenophobic is not the answer. 

Anyone can catch coronavirus. It has spread all across the world and doesn’t select its host based on race. You can just as easily catch the virus from someone that looks exactly like you. 

There’s a danger that lies in this discriminatory activity. It blinds people from the fact that coronavirus can infect anyone from anywhere. It narrows the focus of virus control onto a specific group, ignoring that this is a worldwide phenomenon.

As students at UD, it is important that we advocate acceptance, something that is implied by the mission of our school.

The UD mission statement says: “The University seeks to educate its students so they may develop the intellectual and moral virtues, [and] prepare themselves for life and work in a problematic and changing world.”

Coronavirus is changing the world and fear holds a strong grip on many around us. We must develop our moral virtues and be a beacon for those who fail to realize that we must remain humanitarians in this time of crisis, and not make our fellow humans feel isolated.

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