Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

Discrimination has no place in Covid-19 fight, whether against hamster owners, flight attendants or South Asians


In a climate of collective fear, the labelling and targeting of some people is unfortunately commonplace. In every wave of Covid-19 infections, I have made an appeal, as the chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, to the public to not discriminate against an entire industry or community based on the background of the infected person.

In this round of outbreak, we have seen hamster owners, flight attendants and the Pakistani community become targets of blame. Members of the South Asian community have expressed their concerns to me that the widespread coverage of a virus transmission chain starting with a Pakistani woman might lead to backlash against the entire community.

We understand that to track the transmission chain, it is essential to be precise and provide details, sometimes personal. However, whether this information leads to those individuals and the groups they belong to being shunned and discriminated against depends on the language of the reporting.

The media plays an important role, not just in providing information, but also in shaping public opinion. It is an important responsibility. Social media users need to be reasonable and rational too. I would like to applaud the Post for reporting objectively, collecting various viewpoints and featuring the less represented communities equally.

A letter published in these columns (“Home quarantine could be on the cards for close Covid-19 contacts, but are Hongkongers prepared?” January 25) talked about studies by a centre at Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Medicine on guidelines for home quarantine.

Interestingly, these studies also shed light on concerns that people have regarding home quarantine. Around 50 per cent of respondents worried about being discriminated against by neighbours if a household member was under home quarantine. Avoiding contact for some time is advised, but shunning people, blaming them and discriminating against them is certainly not.

A reasonable person knows not to tar everyone with the same brush. I urge the public to analyse information calmly and prudently and not make extrapolations.

As for the authorities and the media, paying extra attention to the choice of words and weighing them against the potential harm they may cause is paramount. In stressful times such as now, when fear reigns and people are looking for scapegoats, any negative inference can light the tinderbox.

It is time to focus our collective energies on fighting the virus, not each other. If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that we are interconnected and the only way to overcome it is through coming together as a community.