Introduction by Croakey: Australia’s chief health officers are urging Australians to “reach out” to the Chinese and broader Asian community during the coronavirus outbreak, warning that “racism and xenophobia have no place in the response to this or any emerging infectious disease”.
The call has come in a statement from the the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the key decision making committee for health emergencies. It is comprised of all state and territory Chief Health Officers and is chaired by the Australian Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy.
The statement comes amid many reports of racist abuse and slurs in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, on the streets, in schools and workplaces.
Earlier this week, as Croakey has previously published, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) issued a statement calling out “racism and xenophobia” being experienced by hospital patients and staff as a response to the outbreak.
The full text of the Principal Committee’s statement is published below.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee writes:
The emergence of the 2019 novel coronavirus in China has required a global robust public health response to limit the spread of this virus.
We acknowledge that the public health measures taken to prevent the circulation of coronavirus in Australia have been enormously disruptive, but necessary.
We take the issues of proportionality, reasonableness and evidence very seriously. Our recommendations to governments, over the last few weeks, made difficult as we continue to learn much about this new virus, have not been taken lightly or without regard to potential consequences.
“Causing great distress”
We are deeply concerned about false assumptions being made about people of Chinese appearance which is causing great distress to individuals and communities.
We understand that the uncertainties about this new infection are causing anxiety for the Australian community and especially for those who have loved ones in China and other affected countries.
The public health actions that are being undertaken are to contain the coronavirus and not to isolate communities from the care and support that they need.
Much of the current burden is falling on the Chinese community who are sharing information, supporting people in quarantine and isolation, and encouraging actions to protect all of us. We acknowledge and greatly appreciate their support in this.
We feel that much of the anxiety around coronavirus arises because of misunderstanding of spread and risk.
To be absolutely clear, spread occurs through close contact with an infected individual, mostly face-to-face or household contact. It cannot jump across a room or be carried for long distances in the air. The current evidence suggests that sick people early in their illness are the main driver of spread.
While the outbreak in China remains of great concern to us all, the situation today in Australia is significantly different. Australia has only a small numbers of cases, all of whom have relevant travel history. We are following global developments closely and will continue to take all necessary actions to prevent the circulation of coronavirus in Australia.
We should all reach out to the Chinese and broader Asian community at this extremely difficult time for them and support the businesses and events that are now a part of the Australian cultural fabric.
Racism and xenophobia have no place in the response to this or any emerging infectious disease.