US President Donald Trump has been criticised for repeatedly referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”, with critics saying he is “fueling bigotry” and putting Asian-American communities at risk.
The president’s new labelling of the virus came as China and the US traded blame over the origins of the virus, ignoring World Health Organization (WHO) warnings not to link the pathogen, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of December, to a particular area or community to avoid discrimination or stigmatisation.
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The virus, and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has infected more than 173,000 worldwide and killed over 7,000, according to the WHO.
Early Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!”
He doubled down in a later tweet about how US states were being affected, saying: “Some are being hit hard by the Chinese Virus, some are being hit practically not at all.”
Previously, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has referred to coronavirus as the “Wuhan Virus”.
Trump’s most recent comments drew quick rebuke from Beijing, with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, speaking to reporters, urging the US “to correct its mistake and stop its groundless accusations against China”.
The official Xinhua news agency also responded to Trump’s words, writing in a commentary that using “racist and xenophobic names to cast blame for the outbreak on other countries can only reveal politicians’ irresponsibility and incompetence which will intensify virus fears”.
Meanwhile, Beijing, who has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak, has allowed disinformation surrounding the virus to spread in recent days, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian perpetuating one conspiracy theory in tweeting last week that “it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan”.
Spoke today with Director Yang Jiechi about disinformation and outlandish rumors that are being spread through official PRC channels.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 16, 2020
The US State Department on Monday said that Pompeo, in a call with the director of China’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi, had urged Beijing to stop the spread of “disinformation” and “outlandish rumours”.
Meanwhile, Yang issued a “stern warning to the United States that any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail”, Xinhua reported in its summary of the call.
‘Fueling more bigotry’
After weeks of trying to play down the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump struck a new, more urgent tone Monday as he delivered a sobering message to Americans grappling with a new reality that will dramatically alter their lives for months to come.
The shift was informed in part by a growing realisation within the West Wing that the coronavirus crisis is an existential threat to Trump’s presidency, endangering his reelection and his legacy. Trump has told advisers that he now believes the virus will be a significant general-election issue and he took note of the clear-eyed, sombre tone used by his likely opponent, Joe Biden, in Sunday’s Democratic debate, The Associated Press reported.
While his tone shifted in front of the camera, he continued to go after critics on Twitter. Following his “Chinese virus” tweets, he was rebuked by many within the US, with some concerned that the words could harm Asian Americans.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio responded to Trump, tweeting: “Our Asian-American communities – people YOU serve – are already suffering. They don’t need you fueling more bigotry.”
If you’re looking for someone to pin this crisis on, try the guy who made up a phony Google website or promised testing kits that he STILL hasn’t delivered.
Our Asian-American communities — people YOU serve — are already suffering. They don’t need you fueling more bigotry. https://t.co/jjcO7treC2
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) March 17, 2020
Meanwhile, Seattle-based pastor and author Eugene Cho said that “calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians – here and abroad.”
“We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides,” he wrote.
Others accused Trump of using China to deflect criticism over his slow response to accepting the urgency of the outbreak and the lagging rate of testing in the US, for which Trump has categorically said he is not responsible.
I have a small sense of what its like. Nobody should face that. #WithYouToday ✊🏽
— Abdul El-Sayed (@AbdulElSayed) March 17, 2020
Abdul El-Sayed, a public health doctor and author, wrote: “To my Chinese-American friends, I’m so sorry that as our country reals under #COVID19 , ppl responsible are trying to scapegoat the place your family came from by calling this a #ChineseVirus.”