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This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Queensland Government COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 in Queensland.

Queensland is committed to encouraging an equal and diverse society, where everyone feels they belong. We have proven time and time again that we are a people who stick together during the good and the bad.

We are a dynamic, All Abilities state that is home to more than five million people from many cultural backgrounds. This diversity and inclusivity are a strength to our state, economy and our social fabric. Sadly though, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused social stigma and discrimination against some of our fellow mates.

Because the virus originated from China, Queenslanders from Asia and other diverse backgrounds have been the target of hateful words, abuse and violence. Other people in our communities who have the virus, and in some cases their friends and family, have experienced shaming and isolation. Even some people who struggle with everyday allergies and asthma have felt the judgement of others when they have coughed or sneezed.

Stigma hurts everyone – don’t make assumptions
Stigma is hurtful and harmful and can lead to isolation and loneliness. Isolation and loneliness are major health and wellbeing issues that can be harmful to a person’s mental and physical health. Further, stigma can drive people to hide their illness and prevent them from getting medical help to avoid discrimination.

It is understandable that COVID-19 has caused confusion, anxiety and fear among the community. But unfortunately, these factors are also fuelling harmful stereotypes. While students at school or colleagues in the workplace might joke when someone coughs or sneezes, it is important to not make assumptions, even in jest. Declaring they have ‘rona’, might seem funny at the time, but not for someone who suffers with allergies or asthma.

Look out for each other and be kind
If you are really concerned about the health of a family member, colleague or friend, check in with them without accusing them with your words or tone of voice. Try a few of these lines to get the conversation started:

  1. “Hey, you’re not sounding too well – I want to make sure you’re ok.”
  2. “I know it might be a disruption to your day, but I think you should see your doctor if you are not feeling well and go home to rest.”
  3. “Mate, that doesn’t sound too good. Is this from an allergy or do you think you should make a visit to you GP?”

Other ways you can make your words and actions matter

  • Talk about COVID-19, but don’t attach locations or ethnicity to the disease.
  • Speak of people who may have COVID-19 or who have passed away from contracting COVID-19 sensitively and respectfully. Don’t avoid someone who is grieving or someone in isolation because it’s awkward for you. Pick up the phone for a chat. Be genuine in your outreach. Make them a meal or offer to run errands for them.
  • Use language like ‘acquiring’ or ‘contracting’ COVID-19 rather than talking about people transmitting or infecting others. Saying they have spread the virus implies intentional transmission and assigns blame.
  • Speak and share accurate information about COVID-19 from trusted sources such as Queensland Health, the Australian Government or World Health Organisation. Avoid repeating rumours that are not confirmed, or language that spreads fear.
  • Speak positively. Emphasise the effectiveness of preventative measures and don’t dwell on negative or threatening messages.
  • Use your personal or business influence on social media to spread facts and promote unity.

Stand up and speak out to reject COVID-19 racism
Uniting across Queensland to look out for our mates will better help us recover from COVID-19. Public abuse, threats, discrimination and humiliation toward anyone puts Queensland’s social cohesion at risk at a time when we need it most. No one is immune to COVID-19 – and neither fear of the virus nor frustration at the difficulties we all face, are excuses for abusing people – full stop.

Incidents of racial discrimination, harassment and hate, harm our collective wellbeing at a time when we must work together. Now more than ever, all Queenslanders must reject racism and show each other kindness and respect.

In Australia it is against the law to do something in public based on the race, colour, national or ethnic origin of a person or group of people which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.

Examples of inciting violence or a public act

  • A threat or racially offensive material posted on a business or community social media page/account, website or in printed materials such as posters or newspaper
  • Racially abusive comments in a public place, such as a shop, workplace, park, on public transport or at school
  • Racially abusive comments at sporting events by players, spectators, coaches or officials.

You do not have to be a victim to report public discrimination or violence, or the threat of violence. Anyone can make a report to the police:

  • If it is an emergency situation or a life-threatening situation, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for the police.
  • If you are threatened with violence or violently attacked, contact the police on 131 444 or 000 if it is an emergency and get to a safe location as soon as possible.
  • If you witness racial discrimination, harassment or violence report it to the police on 131 444 or 000 if it is an emergency.

Thriving communities
We want Queensland to be full of thriving communities. Thriving communities are safe, vibrant and inclusive. They are built by caring, motivated and passionate residents, volunteers, service providers, businesses, educators and others who take actions to improve their local communities. It’s time to unearth the lessons we learned as children and be kind, safe and to make good choices. Remember, everyone is in this together. Swapping fears and rumours with facts and meaningful action is the best way we can support our mates and get through this difficult time together.