Community Scoop

Challenge racism arising from Covid-19

nicola-sutton-1websizeNicola Sutton

Chief Executive | English Language Partners New Zealand

As the coronavirus bites into communities, with work slowing or stopping in a number of industries and disruption to school and tertiary education for students from China and other countries, the need for a measured and sensitive response is paramount.

The Ministry of Education issued guidelines calling for people to voluntarily isolate themselves if they had departed from or transited through China (since 2 February for mainland China or the past 14 days for the Hubei province). Likewise, the Ministry of Health issued information and guidance, some of which has been published in Chinese. Our experience, as a community provider delivering services to newcomers, is that people are keenly following this guidance.

Despite New Zealand being free of the virus so far, fear of it is real among newcomer communities. It is natural for people to think about how to keep themselves safe, however, the situation has not been helped by some who choose this time to express racist sentiments.

The Race Relations Commissioner is concerned by the growing number of racist incidents sparked by the outbreak with an email campaign in one area calling Asian students virus spreaders and telling them to stay at home. In another incident a New Zealand born doctor of Chinese heritage was called disease ridden and told to go home as she travelled to work by bus. Sadly the other passengers did not defend the doctor which likely led the abuser to assume they agreed with him.

The behaviour of these name callers is cowardly and disgusting. Now is the time for those who said ‘this is not us’, following the Christchurch tragedy in 2019, to prove it. Let’s counter the unacceptable words and behaviour of others by extending a hand of friendship and caring towards Asian neighbours and people in our workplace.

It is helpful to be aware that some individuals may choose to wear face masks, as it is part of their cultural practice to do so to support their hygiene needs. Please respect that people are being proactive in keeping themselves and families safe.

Information is available and regularly updated on the Ministry of Health website


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website