As the number of coronavirus cases grows, Canada's chief public health officer says she's concerned about hateful comments targeting minority groups including Chinese-Canadians.
"I am concerned about the growing number of reports of racism and stigmatizing comments on social media directed to people of Chinese and Asian descent related to 2019-nCoV coronavirus," Dr. Theresa Tam wrote on Twitter Wednesday night.
While certainly one of the most prominent Canadians to call out recent anti-Chinese sentiment, Tam is far from the first.
This racism may be stoked in part by warnings for travellers to stay away from China.
What started as cautions about Hubei province have turned into the Canadian government, among others, urging no travel at all to Hubei and only essential travel to the rest of China. Airlines have cancelled flights to the country as well, adding to the headlines and perceived fear. Lunar and Chinese New Year celebrations have been cancelled, despite health officials stressing that there is no evidence the virus can be spread human-to-human in situations that do not involve close contact.
Misinformation has flourished as well. There have been false reports of potential coronavirus cases spread on social media, and old videos have been recirculated by users claiming they are new.
Tam said Canadians should not repeat the racism that festered during the 2002-03 SARS outbreak. The SARS virus also originated in China, and led to some Chinese-Canadian and Southeast Asian-Canadian people reporting losing their jobs and being threatened with eviction.
Chinese businesses also suffered from SARS – and that seems to be happening again this time, as well. Tonny Louie, the chair of Toronto's Chinatown Business Improvement Association, said Thursday on CTV's Your Morning that he was seeing far more empty parking spots in the area than normal.
"Racism, discrimination and stigmatizing language are unacceptable and very hurtful," Tam tweeted.
"Everyone has a part to play in preventing the spread of the virus. The Chinese community and all travellers from affected areas are a key part of these efforts."
For those travelling from China, the part authorities want them to play at this point is a simple one: Anyone feeling flu-like symptoms should report them to border guards.
There have been three confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus in Canada as of Thursday, all in patients who had recently been in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. There have been more than 8,200 cases diagnosed globally; the vast majority have been in China, where 170 deaths have been recorded.