The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday appealed for an “all-out effort” to end hate speech during the coronavirus pandemic. Guterres did not name a specific country but said that the pandemic has unleashed “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering”.
“Anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and on the streets,” Guterres said during a video address. “Anti-semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and Covid-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred. Migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus, and then denied access to medical treatment.”
The UN secretary-general highlighted that “contemptible memes” online suggest that older people, who are vulnerable to the virus, were expendable. Journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders continue to be targeted simply for doing their jobs, he added.
Guterres also called on the media, especially social media companies to actively remove racist, misogynist and other such content.
The pandemic, which has infected 38.47 lakh people and claimed 2.69 lakh lives so far, has also triggered discriminatory attacks. In April, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had been receiving racist comments and death threats for months, BBC had reported. He claimed the abuse originated in Taiwan, adding that the “foreign ministry didn’t disassociate” itself from it.
In India, last month, nurses at a hospital in Assam’s Guwahati alleged that they were verbally harassed and called “coronavirus”. In March, a man allegedly spat on a 25-year-old woman from Manipur in North-West Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar. He also yelled “corona” at her.
India has been on the receiving end of backlash from Arab countries over instances of discrimination against Muslims, especially since the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, held in New Delhi in March, emerged as a coronavirus hotspot.
The outbreak also triggered a war of words between India and China. The United States has repeatedly blamed China for handling the crisis poorly. The country’s President Donald Trump has also engaged in a dispute with Beijing by calling Covid-19 “China virus” or “Wuhan Virus”. The diplomatic spat escalated last month when Trump threatened China with new tariffs.