Toronto mayor denounces xenophobia against Chinese community amid coronavirus fears

The idea that Chinese communities should be avoided "is entirely inconsistent" with the advice of medical professionals, Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

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By Doha Madani

Toronto's mayor and health officials took a stand Wednesday against xenophobia toward Chinese Canadians amid growing fears about the spread of coronavirus.

The outbreak, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has seemingly led to fears that Chinese communities should be avoided. Toronto Mayor John Tory said the idea was "entirely inconsistent" with the advice of medical professionals.

"It is ill-founded and in fact could lead to a situation in which we are less safe, because it spreads misinformation at a time when people are in more need than ever of real information and real facts," Tory said.

Tory said the city supports the Chinese Canadian community by releasing accurate information as often as necessary. And "we stand up as we are all doing here today to stop misleading or damaging or stigmatizing comments or actions that are directed toward any members of our community," he said.

Toronto Public Health also denounced any idea that the Chinese Canadian community should be feared in a statement issued Wednesday by Dr. Eileen de Villa, the department's medical officer. De Villa confirmed that there were two cases of the new coronavirus in Toronto and a possible case in British Columbia.

De Villa emphasized that risk of contracting the virus was low and that misinformation was "creating unnecessary stigma."

"I am deeply concerned and find it disappointing that this is happening," de Villa said in the statement. "Discrimination is not acceptable. It is not helpful, and spreading misinformation does not offer anyone protection."

As of Wednesday, cases of the new coronavirus in China had soared to more than 7,700, and at least 170 people had died. There were 56 confirmed cases in other countries, including the U.S., Australia, France, Japan, Singapore and Thailand.

Coronaviruses can cause a variety of symptoms, including runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. It is usually spread through direct contact with an infected person.

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Thousands of parents from the York Region District School Board in Ontario circulated a petition to keep out of school students whose families have visited China for an extended period of time, the CBC reported Tuesday.

The CBC also reported that Chinese Canadians are feeling racist sentiments across the country, comparing the misinformation and stigma to the atmosphere surrounding the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, told the CBC that the fears about the Chinese community aren't based in science and that there were "clearly elements of racism to it."

"It's very important to not let our response and how we react to this be driven by paranoia," Bowman said. "We need to listen to the facts."