British-Chinese people tell of ‘discrimination’ and hate as fears rise over coronavirus

6 February 2020, 00:47 | Updated: 6 February 2020, 00:51

Chinese people have told of their fears over a rise in discrimination and instances of hate crime amid the spread of coronavirus.

In a series of shocking incidents seen by LBC News, one woman posted on Facebook that she had been spat on over coronavirus, two teenage girls were filmed apparently shielding their noses and mouths as they walked past Chinese people in an arcade, and a Chinese bus passenger told how someone covered their mouth as they sat down beside her.

The first two patients confirmed to have coronavirus in the UK were taken for treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

All of the incidents above were reported by Chinese people in Newcastle, but there are fears about an increase in hate levelled at Chinese people all over the UK.

People wearing face masks in Manchester amid the coronavirus outbreak
People wearing face masks in Manchester amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: PA

The UK's first British-Chinese MP, Alan Mak, said today: "Discrimination and prejudice against the British-Chinese community, or any minority group, at any time is unacceptable.

"The British-Chinese community has nothing to do with the virus breaking out in Wuhan."

In one shocking incident, a woman told how she was spat on in an unprovoked attack because she was Chinese.

The Newcastle University student posted on Facebook: “This is offensive and prejudice action exists in Newcastle. A stranger spat on me when I was walking back to student dormitory, I did not offend him, just normal walking (no face mask).

Two women wear face masks in a street in Manchester
Two women wear face masks in a street in Manchester. Picture: PA

“Recently, my Chinese classmates and I received some rude and cruel comments from some students or strangers. A student asked my classmate whether she was Chinese or not, then he put on a face mask and left immediately in the Robinson library for instance.

"I think these actions hurt me, hurt us, Chinese students. We are just Chinese students, innocent human beings. 

“I understand that people are panic [sic] about the Coronavirus, but we are not the virus. we are afraid to go to school, we are afraid to be attacked by some strangers on the way to class."

The woman reported the incident to the police and emailed the leader of her university.

One woman posted on Facebook that she had been spat on for being Chinese
One woman posted on Facebook that she had been spat on for being Chinese. Picture: Facebook

In another incident shared by the manager of a Chinese takeaway in Newcastle, two teenage girls can be seen shielding their noses and mouths as they walk past a group of Chinese people in an arcade.

Ho Tong, manager of The Golden Touch Chinese takeaway in Newcastle, posted: "I shouldn't have to say this but none of my staff have been back to China for 2.5 years and 2 of us had never even heard of Wuhan till last week.

"It's actually at the point where my own friends who are British born who've never stepped foot in China are concerned about coughing in public.

"Welcome to being Chinese for the foreseeable future. Really looking forward to having to explain to my 4-year-old daughter why people are staring at us."

Northumbria Police said they were aware of a small number of incidents but that nothing had been formally reported to them, adding that they were prepared to respond "robustly" to any hate crime.

Chief Inspector Alan Pitchford said: "We are aware of national reports of increases in hate crime against the Chinese community following the publicity of the coronavirus.

"We have not had any significant increases in hate crime in our region but we have a positive relationship with our Chinese communities and remain in regular contact to offer them advice.

"If there are any reports that they have been verbally or physically abused because of their nationality then we will respond to that robustly and ensure victims have our support.

"Nobody should be targeted for who they are and we would encourage anyone who has fallen victim of a hate crime to get in touch with police so we can identify those responsible."

A plane brings British nationals back to the UK from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan on Sunday
A plane brings British nationals back to the UK from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan on Sunday. Picture: PA

The vice-chancellor of Newcastle University also sent a letter this week that read: “The growing levels of anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus is giving rise to some behaviours that are unhelpful and, in some cases, deeply shocking.

"Can I please ask you to take a minute to consider the impact that the current situation is likely to be having on those who have travelled back to Newcastle from China in recent weeks and find themselves in the middle of this situation that is completely outside their control?

"This is a particularly difficult time for them and no doubt many of them will also be worrying about family and friends who are still in China.

"It is also essential that we come together to support our Chinese colleagues and students during this distressing time. In the words of Professor Brian Schmidt, Vice-Chancellor and President of the Australian National University: ‘viruses don’t discriminate. And neither do we.'

"I have been appalled by some alarming reports on social media of racial incidents within the city aimed at our students.

"The city council and partners across the city are stepping up their response to this and anyone who experiences any kind of discriminatory behaviour should report it to the police."

Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital became the first place in the UK to admit patients who tested positive for coronavirus at the end of January.

Alan Mak MP warned against prejudice towards the British-Chinese community
Alan Mak MP warned against prejudice towards the British-Chinese community. Picture: PA / UK Parliament

One British-Chinese takeaway owner told LBC News he is "scared to cough in public" in case people think he has the disease, despite having been born in the UK and never setting foot in China.

Mr Ho, 33, said he had "heard of cases of people being beaten up, spat on and bullied" since the virus began dominating headlines.

"It's reaction driven by fear - which is completely understandable - but it's fear that's driven, sadly, by racism towards Chinese people," The Golden Touch takeaway owner added.

He also said his parents were scared to leave the house for fear of being abused, after hearing about incidents in Newcastle.

A man wearing a face mask in the centre of Newcastle
A man wearing a face mask in the centre of Newcastle. Picture: PA

"Students are getting beaten up in and around Newcastle. They're getting spat at, which is disgusting, outside universities and Chinese supermarkets," he claimed.

"I've personally noticed that people are staring at me for a long period, and you know exactly what they're thinking.

"It's a sad situation."

The father-of-two said he loved living in the city, but was worried about how coronavirus fears would affect his shop.

"I'd say business was down 25 per cent last week. Others were about 50 per cent down. And suppliers are all feeling the same," he added.

"If it carries on, it does worry me."

Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary was the first UK hospital to admit coronavirus patients
Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary was the first UK hospital to admit coronavirus patients. Picture: PA

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier today that the government is "taking no chances" with British citizens at risk of coronavirus, as the Foreign Office scheduled its last evacuation flight from China.

Mr Hancock is due to chair a Cobra meeting on coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday evening, eight British nationals and their dependants left the virus-hit city of Wuhan on a flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

Diplomat Danae Dholakia said the Air New Zealand flight was delayed to allow the final passenger, a four-year-old British child, to get clearance to fly.

Paul Maloney, who works for the British Council in China, praised the British Embassy in Beijing for getting his family, including his young son Theo, an emergency passport in order to travel.

"So grateful to @ukinchina for their Herculean effort to get my family home from China. They got us an emergency passport in half a day. So they could travel home," he wrote.

It was announced late on Tuesday that the UK Government will charter a final flight from China to bring British nationals back to the UK this week.

The plane is expected to leave in the early hours of Sunday morning local time and will land at RAF Brize Norton, the Foreign Office said, adding that they want to ensure that all British nationals in Hubei province contact their team to register if they want to leave on the flight.

Additional reporting by Nick Hardinges.