Asian-Australian hospital staff on frontline of coronavirus abuse

As COVID-19 sparks fear across the country, countless Australian health care workers have been subject to racial abuse.

Despite a ban on recent overseas travel, Chinese-Australians and Asian-Australians have been targeted verbally while on the job in Australian hospitals.


More and more Australians are becoming anxious over the spread of Coronavirus in their communities.

Amid the panic, instances of racial behaviour towards Chinese-Australians have risen.

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers of Asian backgrounds have been the primary targets for this kind of racial abuse in Australian hospitals.

The director of emergency medicine at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital Dr Stuart Lewena told 7 News that any kind of racial behaviour could not be tolerated.

“It’s not acceptable in health care and it’s certainly not acceptable in our society – it [racial abuse] is not occurring because people are innately racist, it’s occurring as a result of fear and paranoia,” he said.

Dr Lewena was speaking in response to a case where parents had refused the service of RCH staff because of their ethnicity.

Explaining the incident to Channel 7, he said the hospital had been supporting the targeted staff member.

“The case came to our attention a week ago when a staff member alerted us to the fact that parents of a child she was treating made a comment to her that they weren’t comfortable with her treating their child due to the risk of coronavirus, and it was clear that the message was sent on the basis of her race,” he said.

“We intervened at that stage to highlight to that family that it wasn’t acceptable and we’ve been supporting that staff member.”

Unfortunately similar instances have occurred across the country.

A tweet by Queensland doctor Rita Leang describing her experience of racism at work


Before a ban was placed on handshakes, Gold Coast surgeon Rhea Liang tweeted about a patient not wanting to shake her hand in public because of COVID-19.

The embarrassed Dr Liang was not impressed and finished the post with #racism.

However, more troubling is that this type of behaviour is not only happening in health care but throughout the general community.


A Facebook post by the NSW nurses and midwives association outlines its members’ experiences of abuse.


The producer of Schwartz Media’s 7am podcast Ruby Schwartz has been looking into the racism that surrounds the coronavirus.

Schwartz spoke to Erin Chew – a Chinese-Malaysian woman who has lived in Australia her whole life.

In the interview for 7am Chew describes the moment she was the target of a racial slur in Melbourne’s CBD while on the phone.

“So I walked into just a building on Queen Street, and on the top, there was a little bottle shop, and when I said coronavirus, there was a guy who just walked down and he heard me and he just said to me, you know, shut up, you chink, you are all infected,” she said.

These comments have only made the COVID-19 situation worse for residents like Chew, who says Chinese-Australian citizens feel they have to come to terms with it.

“These types of experiences as traumatising as they can be – we are, some of us, are getting used to it, and it’s actually very unnatural to be used to this type of racism, and it does for someone like myself who was born and raised here – it does make you feel like you don’t belong here,” she said.

“And, a virus such as a coronavirus can be contained and can and can be stopped – but the virus that cannot be stopped is racism.”