A time of great fear and danger requires solidarity, humanity, sacrifice and hope, and not hysteria or hatred. That should be the message of the world’s political, social, religious and corporate leaders as they race to find ways to cope with the lethal virus. Many leaders have done just that.
It is more than unfortunate, then, that President Trump, some members of his cabinet and some conservative politicians have opted to fan the bigotry by deliberately using the term “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus.” Mr. Trump, who spent previous months calling it the coronavirus, started defending the use of “Chinese virus” last week. Photographs of a text of the speech he was reading seemed to show “Corona” lined out and “Chinese” written in the president’s hand. Mr. Trump tweeted support of the Asian-American community on Monday, but his many supporters online had already embraced his formulation.
The xenophobia and prejudices that result from naming new infectious diseases after places, people or animals are the reasons the World Health Organization has urged against doing so, and instead using generic descriptive terms like “coronavirus.” Names like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish flu, swine flu or monkey pox, the W.H.O. said, can have serious consequences, whether provoking a backlash against members of a particular community or prompting needless slaughter of food animals.
In the end, though, the anti-Asian hatreds spread by the coronavirus are not solely the product of politics, but of the deep fears that have always accompanied the outbreak of lethal pathogens. It is for all Americans to try, in whatever ways they can, to remain united and compassionate as the disease invades all facets of our lives.