Distasteful stereotyping of a health concern

LETTERS: THE Wuhan (novel coronavirus) virus has made global headlines. We have come to understand that it is not dissimilar to the SARS virus (also a coronavirus — less easily passed but more lethal). I am primarily taking issue with the mass hysteria and proliferation of racially-tinged reactions to the news.Since the news caught fire, memes are being shared online; it’s human nature to turn to humour in times of trouble. It is entirely normal to voice out an opinion that no one asked for. We all want to be heard and feel important.However, what I find to be distasteful or rather quite disgusting is the way in which this news is being taken in Malaysia. There have been needless attacks on Chinese culture, on food traditions, a call for an overall travel ban from China (Malaysia has already imposed a ban on travellers from affected areas).Is this really the manner in which something serious is handled? By “channelling” inane biases and stereotyping a culture?In the face of a growing pandemic, how is it that racial stereotypes are suddenly acceptable? Seeing as Malaysia is a multicultural nation, I would think we would have more sensitivity, and be more rational in analysing the consequences of sharing so-called jokes, which are really attacks. What we have is a country-wide trivialisation of a health concern, without a thought for the effects, proper regard for the source, and, of course, as has become natural in these times, the sharing of fake news. It is important to reiterate here that all these reactive clicks of the keyboard seem racially charged.It is funny to notice how many people become “experts” when there is a pandemic. “Don’t eat food from China”, “Stop buying animal products”, “Time to go vegan now” — all words I have come across these past few days.The bigger problem I think is the hysteria over the virus and not the virus itself. There is an undeniable sense of déjà vu in our reaction to the Wuhan coronavirus. There was the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, when homosexuals were targeted (a byproduct of homophobia). Then there was the SARS pandemic, a cousin of the Wuhan coronavirus. Recently, there was the H1N1 pandemic as well as the Ebola virus (where the country of origin was also attacked and stereotyped).See what I mean about how the reactions are always somewhat driven by ignorance that then manifest into fear? But back then, the likelihood of one fake news item being traversed across the world was less likely. With the advent of social media, rumours become the truth, ignorance becomes the fashion, and full-blown discrimination replaces subtle racism, although both have equally devastating effects. It is not difficult to fact-check what we’re sharing. We should be referring to credible sources, like the Ministry of Health and statements from relevant government officials and stop being a part of the problem.So, before you share that news and meme, remember the consequences.PARVEEN KAUR HARNAMKuala Lumpur The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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