crowd People in Tokyo wearing masks. Photo: Flickr/nakashi

This UN Anti-Racism Day, we must make sure that Coronavirus doesn’t make any space for racism, writes Lucy Nichols

Today marks 60 years since police opened fire and killed 69 anti-apartheid demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa. Each year, the UN Anti-Racism Day falls on the anniversary of this horrific show of police brutality. Normally activists from around the world would spend the day demonstrating against racism, however, this year’s march has been postponed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Though the march will not go ahead, we must not get complacent when it comes to fighting racism whenever and wherever we see it; COVID-19 has led to a dramatic increase in racism against Chinese and East Asian people all over the world. Just as we saw anti-African racism increase with the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the Coronavirus has again exposed the West’s predilection to scapegoating disease on ethnic minorities from other countries.

Despite the fact that Europe is now the epicentre of the virus, instances of racist abuse against East Asian people have increased significantly in the few months since Coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China. This ranges from Chinese-owned shops and restaurants losing business to physical abuse against East Asian people on high streets and public transport. Donald Trump has of course been stoking this fire, referring to the ‘Chinese Virus’ instead of Coronavirus, as well as calling for a travel ban to be imposed on China. Nigel Farage has since joined in with racist rhetoric, blaming Asia’s lack of hygiene and China’s ‘communist dictatorship’ for the spread of the virus.

Not only is this horribly racist, it is highly irresponsible; the rapid increase in Corona cases in the UK cannot now be blamed on anything other than the Tory government’s reluctance to take the pandemic seriously, or the neoliberal policies that have resulted in our inability to deal with a global health crisis. While the rest of the world appears to be on lockdown or in quarantine, British exceptionalism has allowed us to believe that if we ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, everything will be alright.

This tactic (or lack thereof), paired with an NHS suffering from years of privatisation and underfunding will no doubt lead to thousands of totally avoidable deaths. Government inaction has already put some of the most vulnerable at risk; food banks are empty of food and stockpiling shoppers have left supermarkets without essentials such as toilet paper, sanitary products and toothpaste. Many have lost their jobs and students all over the country have been sent home from universities but still have to pay rent for accommodation they aren’t staying in.

While the West is failing to effectively handle the pandemic, many East Asian countries have dramatically slowed down the spread of the virus; now more people have died from it in Italy than in China. In light of the UN Anti-Racism Day, it is important that we do not allow Coronavirus to be used as an excuse for any form of racism or hatred; focus must instead remain on slowing the rate of infection and looking after those who are most vulnerable.