30 March 2020, Monday | 11:28pm

Covid-19 outbreak causing people to spread fake news, stirring up xenophobia


KUALA LUMPUR: The Covid-19 scare has caused global anxiety.

While panic and fear are expected following the deadly virus outbreak, this episode has unleashed two issues: fake news and xenophobia, or Sinophobia since the virus originated in Wuhan.

The government has taken steps to combat the spread of fake news with the Health Ministry providing immediate verifications and the police, as well as the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, detaining individuals who posted fake news on the virus.

The latter — discrimination against China, its citizens, and those of Chinese origin in many countries — however, seems harder to tackle.

This is despite repeated statements from the Health Ministry and its officials advising Malaysians not to fear, worry or discriminate against the Chinese.

While the public has not gone on a frenzy of grocery shopping, shopping malls, restaurants and parks surveyed in the Klang Valley have seen fewer visitors compared with days prior to the outbreak.

E-hailing drivers told the New Straits Times that they would cancel rides or query a passenger if they were from China before allowing them in. Also, many passengers have cancelled their bookings when they were assigned a Chinese driver.

Malaysians abroad are facing racist and discriminatory situations, from stares on public transport to Uber drivers questioning them.

A Chinese Malaysian, a mother of three living in the United Kingdom for five years, had it worst when she sought medical treatment for her 18-month-old baby.

Helen (not her real name) and her family left for Malaysia on Jan 23 and returned to the UK on Feb 3.

They were well when they arrived in the UK, but her youngest son started to feel unwell on Feb 5 and she fell sick two days later.

The National Health Service (NHS) flagged them for the Covid-19 test and they were kept in isolation. They tested negative for the virus on Feb 13.

However, the baby remained in the isolation ward, kept on the floor, in the accident and emergency department for 12 hours, only to be sent home despite him having continuous diarrhoea, with the drip needle still attached.

“I’m utterly upset at how my baby was treated. The hospital should be ashamed at how they treated a baby in that kind of environment.

“For a few days, I was on my own, despite calling medical services for help. They pushed me from one ward to another. As long as you look Chinese, they think you are from China and look at you differently.

“I have no idea why we were treated as such. Is it because of the virus? They seemed afraid (of attending to us) and just wanted to get rid of us.

“We are really disappointed and disgusted by this so-called reputable hospital. No one gave proper treatment to my son. He got sicker. Even after our negative test results, they still treated us like monsters.

“My husband and I are taxpayers, and we contribute our NHS portion, yet this is how we were treated. I can’t believe it. Luckily, we have private healthcare. Otherwise, I have no idea what would have happened to my baby.”

Helen got her neighbour, a doctor, to help with the needle removal and took her son to a private paediatrician for treatment.

The baby, she said, was diagnosed with bowel infection. If treatment was delayed it could have become more dangerous.

“If he had been treated earlier, his condition wouldn’t have worsened. He could have gotten it from the nursery or due to the cold weather.

“I can’t stand discrimination and mistreatment. The baby is recovering and he is in good hands now.”

Helen said while her workplace, an international corporation, had been supportive, when they learnt she had been isolated, she was requested not to let anyone at work know so as not to cause panic.

She has written to the public hospital’s management, saying: “But I can expect the reply I will be getting. They will say it’s (the virus) something new and they have to take precautionary measures. But that doesn’t mean they don’t do their job (of treating patients).”

Another Malaysian shared her experience on a train in London last week.

“I saw an empty seat and walked towards it. The white man sitting next to the empty seat quickly stood and walked away from me.

“One Asian guy sat next to me and looked at the white guy in disbelief. My colleagues were furious when I shared this with them.”

Elaine Choong Kar Man, 28, a postgraduate student at King’s College, London, said the university sent weekly circulars regarding Covid-19 advising students to take extra precautionary measures.

The MSc Dental Public Health student said her lecturer advised her against visiting Chinatown for the Lunar New Year or to places where large groups of people gather.

“But I went. Chinatown was crowded with Chinese and other tourists. Not many people wore face masks.

“Some people who stood next to me to watch the lion dance started to pull out their face masks from their bags after seeing me with one.

“Yesterday, on the bus, two kids around 6 or 8 started telling their mum about the coronavirus when they saw me wearing a face mask.

“The mum just laughed because the kids said their teachers told them that if you step in China, just one step, you will get the virus. This is because the locals don’t wear face masks even amid the outbreak.

“At the university, some classmates did joke about it, but I wasn’t offended.”

Source: New Straits Times


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