By Greta Lai

The outbreak of Covid-19 has led to growing xenophobic sentiment against minority groups in many societies. While stereotyping and finger-pointing persists, news reports across the world tell the stories of minority people such as LGBTQ, Muslims, Jews, and immigrant communities being scapegoated for the spread of the coronavirus.

The LGBTQ community has been the target of a fresh round of attacks from the media and government authorities. In an outbreak linked to night clubs, South Korean news outlets largely focused on the sexual orientation of the men who tested positive for the virus, which led to an immediate backlash against the country’s gay community and consequently prompted LGBTQ people to get tested.

Photo: UN.

Similarly, Turkey’s top Muslim cleric Ali Erbas said during his Friday sermon, marking the first day of Ramadan, that same-sex relations were responsible for the pandemic because homosexuality “brings illness.” His argument was supported by the Turkish president, according to Ekathimerini

The crisis also led to a spike in Islamophobia and antisemitism. In India, Muslims were scapegoated for the spread of the virus. According to Aljazeera, the community were perceived to be carriers and were subject to increasing discrimination and assault.

Such scapegoating has not been confined to Muslim communities. The virus has also made things worse for Jews across the world. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has expressed concern, saying Jewish communities worldwide were under threat of antisemitism.

Immigrants are no better off than sexual and religious minorities. Since the beginning of the outbreak, Chinese people across the world have been singled out for the creation and spread of the virus.

Kowloon Masjid and Islamic Centre. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The media, especially, has been going the extra mile to scapegoat the Chinese government, its people and overseas diaspora who are at dire risk of various forms of attack.

What’s wrong with it?

Scapegoating minorities risks creating a world of “them versus us.” This is effectively deflects public attention and shifts blame from public health professionals, governments and other parties to the weak and vulnerable, further excluding them from society.

This significantly holds back integration process, not only in economic terms but also in social and political integration. Minorities are already afflicted disproportionately by the disease, but the post-coronavirus economic collapse could make things worse for them, given the long-term unemployment predicted. This is not to mention discrimination against these groups participating in public health decision-making in the future.

File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Associating a viral outbreak with a certain demographic or geographic region is not helpful in solving the big issue at hand, primarily because it increases the time it takes for governments to fight the disease by damaging societal trust and cooperation. As recent coronavirus-related developments have proven, due to the strong wind of homophobia, members of the gay community in South Korea have refused to get tested for fear of being outed. This impedes the government’s efforts in controlling the spread of the virus.

Hate crimes targeting Chinese people overseas are also arousing anti-Western sentiments among communities within and outside of China. This has substantially delayed international cooperation needed to fight the pandemic, especially with China, which is the biggest supplier of medical equipment and masks in the world.

Way out?

We need to stand together to beat Covid-19. This is what everyone can do.

First and foremost, you should read the news critically. Think before believing in what you see from the media. This helps reduce the chance of falling victim to fake news and biased stories.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Second, you can denounce leaders who uphold xenophobic arguments. Public figures play a very important role in disseminating information. When they are not speaking responsibly, citizens can condemn them and call on them to focus on fighting the pandemic.

Most important of all, we should stay calm and keep in mind that any response to Covid-19 should be based on science and public health, rather than hatred and xenophobia. Scapegoating will not ease the situation. It will only prolong the battle against the pandemic and make our society more divided.

File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Everyone deserves to feel respected and accepted, without fear of being discriminated against or harassed, especially in times of crisis. We must show solidarity with the minority communities, which are equally, if not more, vulnerable during this pandemic. This is the best way to get society back on its feet.


Greta Lok Ping Lai is a Policy Research Officer at PathFinders, a charity that helps migrant women and their Hong Kong-born children. She graduated from the London School of Economics in 2019, with a master’s degree in International Migration and Public Policy. 

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