Australians have been urged to “stand up and speak out” against racism and misinformation about the coronavirus as authorities reassured families there was no need for masks or to avoid Chinese restaurants.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese have united in a rare display of bipartisanship on Tuesday as the government weighs an extension of the ban on Chinese arrivals to Australia.
There are widespread reports that customers are avoiding Chinese retailers and restaurants despite the fact there’s no evidence to date of transmission in Australia.
Retailer Harvey Norman has already been forced to apologise after a store used the virus outbreak to promote ‘Australian made’ products.
— Michael Ryan (@theprovenance) February 8, 2020
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was concerning that some Chinese Australians were being subjected to racism.
“The fact is any racist behaviour will not be tolerated and it must be called out,” Mr Albanese said.
“All of us must stand up and speak out against the ugly, divisive and racist behaviour which has been directed to some of our fellow Australians.”
Mr Morrison told Parliament on Tuesday of the “very significant challenge and the Chinese-Australian community has risen to that challenge”.
“I want to extend my great thanks for what has been a very challenging time for them, whether it is in Ashfield, or Box Hill or Hurstville or in any part of the country,” Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister has been using the social media platform WeChat to send information on the virus and messages of support to the Chinese community.
TUESDAY UPDATE: Coronavirus Health Advice
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) February 11, 2020
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it needed to be pointed out that the ‘risk population’ for spreading the virus was anyone who had travelled to China in recent weeks and had nothing to do with being of Chinese background.
“We are very concerned about xenophobia and any sort of racial profiling, which is completely abhorrent,” he said.
“There’s no reason for people to avoid anybody of any particular background or appearance.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt urged Australians to support Chinese-Australians.
But he said he did not want to raise expectations the travel ban would be lifted.
“The Prime Minister, myself, the Chief Medical Officer have indicated that the situation in China is ongoing and so we don’t want to set a false expectation that that is likely to change,” he said.
“The government’s principle is to protect Australians first and foremost, which is why we have taken the very difficult decision with regards to the quarantine and that was not lightly taken.
“That was taken off the most serious of medical advice, not just from the Chief Medical Officer, but from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.”
During challenging times, Australians stand together.
Thank-you to our Chinese Australians for your support and understanding in the face of the coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/vXuKYVyPpi
— Greg Hunt (@GregHuntMP) February 11, 2020
About 530 Australians have been evacuated from China and are currently being held in quarantine on Christmas Island and at another site near Darwin.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan also has 229 Australians on board, 11 of whom have been diagnosed and given medical treatment.