NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel criticized on Wednesday the use of the term “China virus” to describe the highly contagious coronavirus.
“It’s easy to scapegoat people and that is what has always happened when there have been pandemics — that foreigners are attacked, sometimes foreigners physically are attacked,” Engel said during an appearance on MSNBC.
.@RichardEngel: "This is a virus that came from the territory of China but came from bats. This is a bat virus, not a China virus. It doesn't speak Chinese. It doesn't target Chinese people. It targets human beings who happen to touch their eyes, nose or mouth." pic.twitter.com/ljQeT7UQam
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 18, 2020
Engel compared the modern day use of terms that alluded to the coronavirus’ Chinese origins to the “scapegoating” of ethnic groups that occurred during pandemics in the Middle Ages.
“And China certainly feels that is what is happening now — people calling it the ‘Wuhan flu’ or the ‘Wuhan virus’ or the ‘China virus,'” he added.
“This is a virus that came from the territory of China but came from bats. This is a bat virus, not a China virus. It doesn’t speak Chinese. It doesn’t target Chinese people. It targets human beings who happen to touch their eyes, nose or mouth.”
In January, a doctor and prominent Twitter personality said anyone promoting viral videos of Chinese people eating bats is “both racist and a dangerous opportunist.”
Meanwhile, numerous liberal politicians, commentators and journalists have echoed the Chinese government’s claim that using terms such as “China virus” to refer to the coronavirus is racist.
Days after Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was “highly irresponsible” for media outlets to call the highly contagious disease the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus,” a debate erupted on social media over the appropriateness of the terms.
“By calling it ‘China virus’ and thus suggesting its origin without any supporting facts or evidence, some media clearly want China to take the blame and their ulterior motives are laid bare. The epidemic is a global challenge,” Zhao told reporters during a briefing in early March.
The World Health Organization has similarly urged against the use of “Wuhan Virus,” “Chinese Virus” or “Asian Virus” to describe the illness.
“The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatization,” the WHO said in a statement.
MSNBC anchor David Gura expressed agreement with the WHO last week, tweeting: “FYI: Calling #COVID19 the ‘Wuhan Virus’ is racist.”
Oh, really? What race is Wuhan?
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) March 9, 2020
Pro-choice activist Ilyse Hogue slammed Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for “Using terms like “Wuhan virus.”
“Stop it,” she ordered.
Using racist terms like "Wuhan virus" is why your family ran ads against you. Stop it. https://t.co/Ik8vAClZOW
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) March 9, 2020
Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics appointed by Barack Obama in 2013, accused Trump supporters of “invoking racist tropes” by using the phrase “Wuhan virus.”
MORE: Anti-Trump Rapper Says Only White People Can Catch Coronavirus
“Desperate Trump supporters are trying to label COVID-19 the Wuhan virus to distract from the fact that the Trump administration’s failures have increased the danger here in the U.S. It’s childish, but it has the advantage of also invoking racist tropes. They like that,” he tweeted.