We must halt the spread of xenophobia surrounding coronavirus

Letters
Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

I am not surprised at your article headlined “Outbreaks of xenophobia in west as coronavirus spreads” (31 January). I have a feeling of deja vu with the public health and media handling of the outbreak, comparing it to the beginning of the HIV/Aids pandemic. Similarities include uncertainty about the epidemiology, and the stigmatising of particular groups of people. Fear, anxiety and blame result when people do not trust the message or the messenger.

It appears that the public health strategy is dependent on at-risk patients self-reporting and self-isolating. The most recent case identified in London allegedly did not follow these guidelines. This begs the question whether public health should revise the way it is presenting and disseminating information to the public. The media has a huge role in providing correct information to create a conducive environment to implement preventative public health measures and stem stigmatisation of any particular ethnic group.

Viruses have no passports or nationality, but a basic tenet of a public health strategy is to identify those most at risk and to treat them and prevent infection to others. Minimising discrimination and stigma is a key part of this strategy. Responsible reporting requires a balance in disseminating information while reducing sensationalism.
Dr Jayshree Pillaye
Harrow, London

• A student of mine mentioned in an email her fear of wearing a face mask because she had heard of instances of Chinese students being abused or even attacked. Her words shook me from a complacent assumption that somehow we are all coping, more or less, with the developing health crisis in China – and with its as-yet limited impact in the UK. Some in our midst are not doing that well – in particular the young students from China so readily invited by this country’s educational institutions to learn and live among us for the duration of their studies.

Unchecked racial prejudice and discrimination will ultimately have a more corrosive impact than this virus is likely to have. Indeed, a student so fearful about wearing a mask because she is anxious it will stigmatize her as contaminated is constrained by the prejudice displayed around her from acting rationally and safely. This is to the disadvantage of all of us. But imagine what are now the anxieties informing the daily lives of young people who find themselves so suddenly vulnerable.
Maria Jaschok
Oxford

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