By Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew Daily
Any disaster will tend to expose human prejudices and preconceptions.
The same goes for coronavirus
If you have paid any attention to the Malay web ecosystem, you should be able to note that the fiercest online discussions during the past two days have revolved around a COVID-19 case in Kuching.
A manageress returning to the country from a vacation in Italy failed to reveal her travel history honestly and did not go on home quarantine. She went back to office two days later.
As a matter of fact, she had already been infected by the virus and I'm sure she wasn't aware of this herself. She later was diagnosed with the viral infection and became the country's Case 1,580.
Case 1,580 still went back to work as usual, and passed the virus to some of her colleagues, resulting in 37 infections in total.
One of her subordinates brought the virus back to her family, and very unfortunately, five in her family later died of the virus while another was struggling to stay alive.
The incident has since sparked tremendous outcry in the Malay society, because the manageress is a Chinese, and the ill-fated family is Malay.
Very unfortunately such negative sentiment has spread wildly and been given a racist overtone. While tossing curses at the manageress, Malay netizens also hurled hostile allegations against her ethnic community, and we can imagine the language used is not going to be any gracious.
To be honest, this is nothing surprising in this country. For so many decades, intercommunity relationship in this country has been clouded by racial prejudices and distrusts, as well as discrimination and repulsion. During the good times, such negativities have been largely tolerated.
However, when the society is stricken by a crisis or disaster, the tolerance level dips and recessive frustration and hatred begin to surface and be morphed into a dominant form of verbal violence, as people hasten to look for convenient scapegoats to target their wrath at.
And this phenomenon occurs not just in the Malay society. When the tabligh gathering at Masjid Seri Petaling spawned a massive infectious cluster in the country, many Chinese netizens cursed not only the participants, but their race and religion as well.
In a recent survey conducted by The Centre on web behaviors of Malaysians after the coronavirus outbreak erupted, it was deduced that the volume of negative comments against people from a different racial background had surged by more than ten times, and that this thing happened not unidirectionally both in both ways.
Shocking aside, the phenomenon is also extremely worrisome. If this is allowed to go on, it will develop into a time bomb over time, especially if the outbreak gets intensified and the economy deteriorates as a consequence.
In this particular case in Kuching, the aggressive reactions among the Malay social media users have very likely stemmed from the already taut interracial relationship as well as the widening wealth gap.
In their understanding, the wealthy Chinese manageress went to Europe for holiday and transmitted the virus to her low-income employees, bringing disaster to the victim's entire family.
Reassuringly, one of the victims said she did not hate Case 1,580 but hoped everyone would reveal the travel history honestly.
She insisted that anyone with a recent travel history had to go on quarantine with a sense of responsibility, while all other people should stay at home and avoid going out.
Her grandmother, uncle, aunt and two other relatives died of coronavirus while her father was treated at ICU. She herself has luckily recovered after being infected by the virus.
I hold very high respect for this lady. By right she has more reasons than any others to be furious, but she has opted not to make aggressive reprimands.
Indeed, no one likes to see this tragic thing happen. Coronavirus has inflicted a terrible national catastrophe but no single ethnic group is to take the blame squarely.
Where the virus is concerned, there is no racial or religious distinctions in humanity, and every single earthling could be its target. The virus will never exempt any specific community or be particularly harsh to another. It is only looking for people who are negligent, ignorant, foolish and stubborn, and such people can come from any ethnic or religious group or nation.
As for us, in the face of this horrendous virus, we cannot afford to divide ourselves into groups, but to stay united to fight this common enemy. Otherwise, we will have defeated ourselves before the virus even gets to do so.