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Op-ed: Chunyan Zhu

Coronavirus outbreak: A Chinese-Canadian's perspective

By Chunyan Zhu

A spate of racist incidents targeted towards Chinese people has been reported around the world since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in early January 2020.

The level of racism has been escalating day-by-day, especially after Wuhan, the most affected city, was locked down on Jan. 23. Numerous Chinese students and workers reported facing verbal and physical abuse in the U.K. and other countries.

An article titled China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia published in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 3 was a flagrant offense to Chinese people. Over 115,000 people signed a We the People petition in protest of the title.

Unverified information

When we feel unsafe, we may instantly look for somebody, something or some community to blame so that we feel we understand the situation.

With so much news coverage and social media posts about the coronavirus outbreak, people are easily misled by unverified information and then start intentionally or unintentionally behaving in racist ways.

“Is racism going to help us walk away from this global health emergency?”

For example, people may cast judgmental looks towards an Asian person who is wearing a mask on the street; people who love Chinese cuisine may choose not to go to Chinese restaurants; people may call coronavirus the “China virus” in front of their children, etc.

But is racism going to help us walk away from this global health emergency? As a country that values multiculturalism and diversity, I think the answer is absolutely not.

While the federal government is making efforts to help Canadian citizens, temporary and permanent residents, even applicants who are affected by the coronavirus, do you know what the Chinese communities across Canada are doing to help?

Chinese communities rising to the challenge

In many places, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Chinese communities made calls for a two-week, self-quarantine to people who recently returned from China.

Many Chinese communities spontaneously formed volunteer groups to help people in quarantine purchase groceries and supplies and delivered it to them.

In Ontario, health professionals provided volunteers with training and guidelines to ensure their safety while they picked people up at airports and delivered food to those in quarantine.

Chinese communities are trying to do their best to help prevent a potential spread of the coronavirus, as well as the rise of discrimination.

Sacrifice and contribution

In Newfoundland and Labrador, WeChat groups are the main connection for the Chinese community.

The first time I noticed how serious the coronavirus concerns were in our community was when people made calls for isolation in the WeChat groups.

One of the group members, a Memorial alumnus, said he would offer his rental apartments for free to those people returning from China who do not have families here who wished to self-quarantine.

“I just made some steamed buns. I have left them outside of your apartment.”

Some parents also expressed their concerns about potential discrimination in their children’s schools.

On the same day, a new WeChat group named Recent Return to NL Support Group (纽芬兰返加互助群) was created. A few moms in the Chinese community offered airport pickups as well as to deliver food to those people in quarantine.

As of today, there are 54 people in the support group. They are either volunteers or students and workers who recently returned to Newfoundland and Labrador from China and who may need different levels of assistance during the self-quarantine period.

Common conversations in the group included, “How are you guys today, do you still have milk?” “I am on my way to Costco, would you need anything?” “I just made some steamed buns. I have left them outside of your apartment.” “I just dropped by and left a box of masks. It’s hung on your doorknob. Come out and get them.”

While I read the group conversations, I felt understanding, kindness, humanity, trust, social responsibility and love.

‘Warm hearts and kindness’

Meanwhile, I also saw that friends are opening their houses to those families in which one family member needs to be in quarantine; they welcomed the rest of the family members to stay with them for the two-week quarantine period.

Personally, I’ve never felt this much togetherness in the Chinese community during my 12 years living in St. John’s.

I am impressed by all the sacrifice and contribution the Newfoundland and Labrador-Chinese community has made to ensure we are all safe here in our province.

People’s warm hearts and kindness make me proud that I am a part of that community!


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