The rapid spread of the potentially deadly Covid 19 virus has justifiably deeply unsettled people across the world. People are right to take sensible precautions against contracting the virus. Media coverage has boosted our awareness of the dangers of the virus and steps we can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones from it.
At the same time, the lines between public vigilance and overreaction have sometimes become blurred. Whilst health workers and many others have shown great dedication and responsibility in attempting to contain the spread of the virus, a minority of people has done the opposite, succumbing to irrational fear and prejudice.
The worst manifestations of the latter have included verbal abuse, “othering” and harassment of Australians of Asian or presumed Asian background, for that reason alone, whether or not they have recently been overseas or exhibit any symptoms. Absurdly, this behaviour has also been directed at doctors and other health workers of Asian appearance, every one of whom may be needed to see us through this crisis.
The mindless scape-goating of innocent people is cowardly and ignoble. It violates the most fundamental ethical teachings of each of our respective religions, which provide the foundations for our legal and constitutional system and our uniquely Australian ideas about tolerance, respect and a fair go for all.
We commend the Prime Minister and Opposition leader for condemning xenophobia and racism, and expressing sympathy and solidarity towards Australians of Chinese background. We support the call to reason made by the Race Discrimination Commissioner.
We appeal to all people of faith:
- to join in prayer for a speedy end to the current scourge;
- to show inner strength at this testing time by setting a moral example by speaking out against racial prejudice whenever they see it; and
- to volunteer to assist charitable organisations providing help for affected individuals and families.
We appeal to our fellow Australians, whether they are people of faith or no faith, to work together in solidarity to minimise the impact of the virus to the extent that this is within our power.