Politics of xenophobia, news coverage of health crises

Cale Holmes
The US travel restrictions on China and criticism of China’s quarantine strategy to contain the COVID-19 have been seen as a racist politicization of the epidemic. But while COVID-19 has spread quickly around the world, the US corporate media have failed to acknowledge their own domestic public health crises.
COVID-19 has indeed been a tragedy that has caused at least 2,715 deaths and infected at least 78,064 in China. But in the midst of Western hysteria over COVID-19, some commentators are neglecting to understand the health tragedy of the seasonal flu. For the 2019-20 flu season, 19 million Americans have experienced the illness, and while only 180,000 people were hospitalized, at least 10,000 died, according to the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates.
The US is the only major country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to its citizens as a human right. It’s estimated about 30,000 people in the US die every year because they can’t afford medical treatment, according to Physicians for a National Health Program. In the midst of such an incomplete system, it is unfortunately easy to understand why there are so many deaths from the seasonal flu.
To distract from this travesty, it is easy to understand why the US corporate media, with similar profit motivations as the drug and pharmaceutical companies, would rather sensationalize COVID-19 than adequately focus on domestic health disasters. Fear helps generate profit and distracts Americans from understanding the social problems around them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a global health emergency, but not yet a global pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stressed international cooperation is key to making sure it doesn’t become one.
The US travel restrictions and media narrative would make one think the sky is falling in China. Such hyperbolic reporting never occurred in China in 2009 and 2010 during the swine flu pandemic in the US, which was estimated to have killed 17,000 Americans,according to the country’s CDC. Just like the bigotry that factored into the US government and media response to the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic and the multiple drug addiction epidemics over the past four decades, corporate coverage of COVID-19 has demonstrated a lack of compassion. The 2002-03 SARS epidemic in China and the 2013-16 West African Ebola epidemic were also met with a similar lack of empathy and racially charged characterizations of these regions as being “uncivilized.”
The yellow peril stereotype, borrowed from Europe by American white supremacist writers in the 19th century, has long affected the Western cultural psyche. The idea that “sneaky Asians” would destroy Western nations became a racist trope used to justify hostility toward societies exploited by colonization and imposed underdevelopment. This explains modern-day delusions from US Senator Tom Cotton about biological warfare.
In spite of that chronic underdevelopment however, China has come a long way since achieving sovereignty. Though ever-evolving and still in development, China’s healthcare system has worked to deliver free medical treatment to all COVID-19 patients. The government constructed a COVID-19 focused improvised hospital within 10 days. The lockdown of Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak in Central China’s Hubei Province, has allowed for the first decline in new cases in weeks. Taking decisive steps has helped China, and specifically Wuhan, repel initial mistakes and help stabilize the virus outbreak.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has ignored the healthcare needs of the American people, and indeed people of the world. With an imperialist attitude on quarantining China, it has blocked progressive avenues to working with WHO, China, and the rest of the world to help stem the flow of COVID-19. Clear heads and open hearts must prevail to ensure health crises around the world are solved and patients, regardless of race or color, can survive. -The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item