Queens leaders warn use of term ‘Chinese virus’ inflames racial tension

Photo: Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

As the elected official representing Flushing, an area with an Asian population near 70 percent according to the 2010 census, Councilman Peter Koo is taking umbrage with officials and some in the media for referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” instead of its officially recognized term, COVID-19.

“I implore all public figures and media outlets to be responsible distributors of information and go by the WHO official name for coronavirus disease, COVID-19,” Koo said. “Not only does trying to normalize the term ‘Chinese coronavirus’ recklessly go against their official definition of the virus, but it inflames racial tensions at a time when Asians around the world are being discriminated against and even assaulted due to this very kind of misinformation. This is not a virus that affects one country or one group of people. Coronavirus is worldwide.We must fight it as one.”

Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee, the first borough president of Asian descent in the City of New York, concurred.

“‘Chinese virus’ is a deeply consequential misnomer. COVID-19 gives no one license to harass or assault anyone, but the term ‘Chinese virus’ provokes exactly that,” Lee said. “It emboldens the discrimination, harassment and targeting of many Americans.”

President Donald Trump has come under fire for using the term frequently, and for being unapologetic for doing so.

“It’s not racist at all,” Trump said during a Wednesday press briefing. “It comes from China, that’s why.”

Lee condemned the use of the term and cited several bias incidents including a man who harassed an Asian father and his 10-year-old son at 70th Avenue and Queens Boulevard last week, an incident that is being investigated by the NYPD.

“Calling it a ‘Chinese virus’ instead of the accurate term ‘COVID-19’ inflames racism, empowers xenophobia, and resurrects ‘yellow peril’ perceptions that endangers American citizens like myself,” Lee said. “This is a shared war against a pandemic, and as we all race together to stem the tide of COVID-19, triggering a war of words is the absolute last thing we need. This virus does not discriminate, and as fellow Americans, neither should we.”