By Mason Quah
THE current Coronavirus outbreak originating from the Wuhan region of China has emboldened a wave of bigotry and racist rhetoric targeting the Chinese.
Once genomic sequencing identified that the virus originated from a strain found in bats the immediate response from many armchair epidemiologists, including some in the media, was to proclaim the cause was the Chinese practise of consuming bats whole.
Photos swarmed social media of tourist stalls selling bat soup, none of them traceable to the Wuhan fish market where the virus originates.
During the current winter season the bats are in hibernation and are not currently eaten.
The consumption of bats exists as a cultural practise across Asia, Africa and the pacific.
Indeed, most of the footage used for fear-mongering originates from Palau, separated from the mainland by 3000km of ocean.
The claims that China’s outbreak of Coronavirus originates from their food culture are both laughable and xenophobic.
We might just as easily slander the American pork industry for the 2009 Swine flu epidemic.
It is much easier to predict the convergence of multiple human-compatible swine flu strains within a battery farm than to anticipate a bat specific strain of coronavirus spontaneously making two species jumps to infect humans.
More than merely being xenophobic, these explanations also place the blame for the pandemic on its victims.
Zoonotic transmission and food contamination are issues that can occur anywhere on the globe, but specific scorn is being levied at the Chinese.
The pattern playing out around the coronavirus is the same one that can be seen going back to the 2014 ebolavirus, 1970s HIV pandemic, or the bubonic plague.
Writing on the great diseases of the 20th century, Susan Sontag noted the way we view diseases has changed over time, but almost always we blame the diseased.
HIV was seen as a plague of the promiscuous and thus contracting HIV carried the stigma of sexuality. Prior to HIV the same was said of cancer.
Sontag describes how cancer was often written of as a disease of the depressed, and that dying from cancer was seen as a personal failure to not “fight hard enough.”
Before this was tuberculosis, the plague of artists: It was believed that tuberculosis would only afflict the creative, and many artists therefore sought to emulate the symptoms.Attached to many diseases throughout history are accusations of blame.
HIV was proclaimed a divine punishment upon the drug addicts and the gay community. These groups weren’t persecuted because of HIV, but HIV enabled it to be justified.
Coronavirus is being used in the same way; the existing biases people hold against Chinese culture are provided an excuse by the coronavirus.
Diseases are often blamed on the people who catch them. For their diets, their sexualities, their religious beliefs. In truth people catch diseases because of viruses, which can evolve and spread unpredictably from anywhere in the globe.
Treating diseases as metaphors for cultural or character weakness doesn’t work because human biology isn’t a poem.
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