The problem with calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus”

Everyone in the world is being affected in one way or another by the most severe pandemic the 21st century has witnessed. COVID-19, a novel Coronavirus strain originated in the Hubei province of China, and since has caused alarming fatalities. Even people who are safe from the virus are not safe from its impact, with whole countries going into quarantine, economies entering unprecedented recessions, and fear gripping the whole globe. Nobody is truly safe from the virus, leaving everyone in the same boat — just hopefully six feet apart from each other on that boat. 

Despite the equalizing effect of this massive global crisis, some people still find themselves being discriminated against during a time where it’s critical for the world to ‘come together’ — from a distance, of course. Many have taken to referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese Virus,’ instead of its other nicknames.

“China is to blame because the culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the Swine Flu,” Senator John Coryn was cited saying on “The Hill”. 

It’s no secret that COVID-19 emerged from China, and there is a widely accepted consensus that the virus itself came from the practice of eating exotic animals. These things are not being disputed, and this is largely what people use to argue for it being okay to refer to this disease as being the “Chinese virus.” I like to believe that most people do not intend to be harmful by referring to the disease as such, but use the name “Chinese virus” as another shorthand nomer to replace the other names that people are sick of hearing constantly in the news. 

Here is the problem with this: when people hear others referring to the virus with an ethnicity attached to it, whether they mean to or not, they unconsciously form connections in their mind between these people and this terrible pandemic. For most people, this will not stop them from purchasing from Chinese-owned businesses in the United States like local restaurants and other small businesses, or canceling an Uber when they see that their driver is Asian. But for some, this is exactly the impact they face. 

These people in America are so far removed from the origin of this crisis, some possibly never having stepped foot in China in their lives, and must carry the burden of something they have no control over. This xenophobic reaction causes people to be racist and judgmental toward people that are Americans, born and raised, but are seen as being different because of their appearances. 

China is routinely blamed for pandemics emerging, a stereotype they are not soon to be rid of, I’m sure. From the Bubonic Plague to now, the country has been the birthplace of many infectious diseases. This needs to be seen with more nuance. China has the highest population in the world. With approximately 1.4 billion residents, 18% of the population of the world lives within its borders. 

While they are just one country, they are also one-fifth of the literal whole world. They also have an incredibly high population density of 145 people per square kilometer. For reference, the United States has a population density of 36 per square kilometer. With close quarters and an extremely high amount of people, it’s not surprising that they are more likely to see the rise of diseases like this. 

They outnumber Americans several times over, and yet we are still thinking that this problem is us, as humans, versus them. When in reality, they are literally a larger component of humanity than we are. Coronavirus, COVID-19, “Corona” — is not a Chinese virus, it is a human virus. It’s time for us to join hands — or webcams — to get through this together.