The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China is not (yet) a pandemic, according to the WHO, but its spread has been accompanied by reports of racism and xenophobia from around the world. Jonathan Corpus Ong of the University of Massachusetts and Gideon Lasco of the University of the Philippines argue that more needs to be done to stop the spread of prejudice in the wake of the outbreak.
The way we understand illness is rarely defined by science alone. That is particularly evident when there are gaps in scientific knowledge – cliche and prejudice fill the void. Narratives of karmic debts, secret conspiracies, and depraved deviants offer the most irresistible explanation. To paraphrase the late media scholar Roger Silverstone, stereotypical frames offer comfort as they help contain catastrophe. In our fractious times, misinformation – spread wittingly and unwittingly through the media and online – further exacerbates dangerous fallacies.