Racism has been a consistent theme since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Globally, it began with the hurtful anti-Chinese rhetoric, as many equated the virus’ place of origin with its people, resulting in verbal and physical attacks against those of Asian descent throughout the entire pandemic.
Here in BC, we saw similar issues, where the origin of the disease was met with a discriminatory reaction towards those residing in the Fraser Health Region.
The Fraser Health Region consists of cities such as Abbotsford, Delta, Surrey and South Surrey/White Rock, with Surrey being home to BC’s largest immigrant population in the province relative to its total population. Many of those immigrants are visible minorities.
As numbers had been growing quite rapidly in the region from the months of April to July, many began to point their fingers at the South Asian community for the harsher restrictions imposed by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer of BC.
However, several studies have shown why South Asians have been disproportionately affected, and it is largely due to the fact that many members of the community work on the frontlines as essential workers, or in various trades, and transport related fields that are vulnerable to COVID exposure.
Another key factor to consider as to why COVID is highly prevalent amongst South Asians is the means in which public health messages are mandated.
Information surrounding the virus changes daily. Whether it is the number of cases, new variants, or news on vaccine roll-out--it can be overwhelming to keep up, especially if this information is not immediately accessible in one’s dominant language.
A large number of Surrey’s residents note Punjabi as being their first language, so it necessitates those in Public Health to take action, and ensure immigrant communities can keep up with news and restrictions to the best of their ability in a way that is accessible to them.
However, this accessibility is threatened when those who can act as a representative for the community are delegitimized in the public sphere, and this is a challenge that racialized professionals have to navigate.
Dr. Birinder Narang was a recent guest on CBC Vancouver to answer questions on the vaccine, and was met with a myriad of hateful words in the comment section on the broadcasting networks YouTube channel—which have now been turned off.
Narang has since taken to Twitter to share some of the comments he had received, sharing the events inflicted upon him as a way to highlight the challenges of POC in the health field.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has faced a similar plight, as many have invalidated her expertise to help prevent the spread of the virus because she is Asian.
Often, diaspora and minority communities are blamed rather than understood for their role in COVID-19 cases, and those in public health who can play an instrumental role in educating and protecting people are racially accosted.
While it is necessary to mitigate and control any area that presents itself as a potential viral hotspot, what needs to be understood is that the chain of transmission will not be stopped by adopting a racist disposition.
Pandemic management can only be as effective when the link between social determinants and public health is understood rather than discriminated against.
COVID does not discriminate, and neither should you.
About the author: Reya Rana is a UBC grad who studied Poli Sci and English language. She is really interested in writing and reading rhetorical analyses, and she enjoys all kinds of music, fashion and books that make her cry. Her pronouns are she/her.