Over the last few weeks, the world has watched the spread of the ‘2019 novel Coronavirus’ (2019-nCoV) both within the People’s Republic of China and around the world.
The efficient response to the outbreak within China has been well-documented by both Chinese and foreign media as well as groups such as the World Health Organisation. In his visit to China, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation praised the “seriousness”, “commitment” and “transparency” of the Chinese response. We too are impressed by the speed in which Chinese workers are building dedicated hospitals, an ability that our government definitely lacks in New Zealand!
As workers in the NZ healthcare system, we are naturally concerned with the response that the New Zealand Government and DHBs will give to the possibility of a small-scale spread of 2019-nCoV within Aotearoa.
Luckily, we currently have no confirmed cases of the virus, and we sincerely hope it stays that way. Across the country healthcare workers are ensuring that the necessary precautions are made. Already, there have been tests on people with suspected cases at Rotorua Hospital, which fortunately came back negative.
We join the call of prominent healthcare workers and union leaders such as NZNO President Grant Brookes for policy-making in this area to stay as a public health issue and not allow racism and anti-Chinese sentiment to infect the decisions that are made.
The racism of the Labour Party and NZ First is very familiar, both with Labour’s “Chinese names” scandal and Winston’s repeated anti-immigrant comments. At the same time, the Green Party is quick to adopt a cold war mentality and drum up worry about Chinese influence in New Zealand and being “trapped by Xi Jinping Thought”. Both of these, if left to politicise matters of public health, risk violating the rights and privacy of both Chinese New-Zealanders and visiting Chinese, and damaging the necessary international cooperation between healthcare workers and public health organisations.
During New Zealand’s measles outbreak last year, no country shut their border to us in a Trump-style travel ban, and we do not need a similar policy towards Chinese citizens.
Healthcare workers and all those in policy-making must continue to ensure that our considered public health response to 2019-nCoV is not corrupted by harmful politicisation and either racism or a cold war mentality.
We emphasise our solidarity with the Chinese people and all the workers on the frontlines dealing with 2019-nCoV.