4 Feb 2020

Auckland doctor told to 'go home to China'

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 4 February 2020

An Auckland doctor is concerned at the level of hate being directed toward the Chinese community over the outbreak of the new coronavirus and worries where it could lead.

A Chinese tourist wearing a protective mask waits at Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow, Russia.

Photo: AFP

After having stood in the dust of roadworks while she waited for her bus, Dr Linda Lum sneezed once she got on. In front of her, an older man turned around and yelled “Go back to China or we’re all going to die”.

Lum was shocked and no-one, not the other passengers on the bus nor the driver, said anything.

She says as a doctor who has been practising for about 30 years she knows sneezing etiqeutte.

“I had my disposable tissues, I got two bottles of hand sanitisers so I hardly thought I’d cause the mass extinction of all New Zealanders.”

She says she’s never even been to China, New Zealand is her home.

It’s not the first time this has happened to her, but most people mutter it under their breath when in public, she says.

“But lately with this coronavirus situation, people just feel emboldened to say what they really feel on social media and in public.”

Lum is concerned social media is fueling ignorance and hate. 

New Zealand has temporarily closed its borders to all foreign nationals traveling from or through mainland China, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against all travel to China.

That runs counter to the advice of the director general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who's repeatedly said such travel bans are unnecessary and yesterday told the organistion's executive board: "There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade".

“The thing with a virus is that it doesn’t judge who you are, it doesn’t discriminate against race..." says Lum.

“We should empathise with those people being affected, in China and overseas, we shouldn’t be ignorant and hate.”

Lum is part of the Auckland Chinese Medical Association, advocating for the health and wellbeing of the Chinese community. 

“We’re trying to get them a voice. They are the silent minority, they don’t want to talk out too much or bring attention,” she says.

 “As well as public health talks, we as doctors are working directly with GP practices about practice policy when dealing with people from China and we’re trying to educate the Chinese public through the Chinese media…about infection control, how to keep themselves safe, how to keep New Zealanders safe.”