Staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne have reported being racially profiled in the midst of coronavirus fears, including by at least one family who told a doctor they did not want her treating their child due to her race.
- The hospital has issued communications guidance to respond to racist incidents
- Staff reported seeing parents avoiding patients and staff of Asian appearance
- The director of emergency medicine said the behaviour was “completely unacceptable”
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the number of new cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus officially reported outside China had exceeded those reported by Beijing for the first time since the outbreak began.
Victoria has had seven of Australia’s 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and none of the cases were transmitted locally within the country.
But RCH director of emergency medicine, Stuart Lewena, said the hospital alerted the Department of Health after staff reported “racial slurs and comments” related to the virus.
“One of our staff let us know that she had had a family refuse to let her provide care for their child on the basis of her race, and what they declared was their concern that she was a risk of spreading coronavirus to them and their child,” Dr Lewena said.
Staff also reported seeing patients avoiding people of Asian appearance in waiting rooms.
Dr Lewena said the “completely unacceptable” behaviour reflected “a paranoia and fear that was really unreasonable”.
“There’s no reason to suggest that anyone’s race has any relevance whatsoever with regard to the risk of our approach to coronavirus,” Dr Lewena said.
Earlier this month, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine warned its members had experienced an increase of instances of racism within emergency departments, and staff at some hospitals had to be issued with “scripts” to deal with abuse.
RCH recently issued similar communications guidance for its staff.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said she was concerned by the reports from the hospital, and had also heard instances of racism in the general community.
“The spread of this virus has nothing to do with ethnicity. Any suggestion that it does is just absolutely wrong,” she said.
Businesses in Sydney’s Chinatown reported an 80 per cent drop in business in the weeks after the outbreak began, with similar reports around the country.
Health authorities in Australia and abroad are preparing for the threat of a possible pandemic of the virus, and strict quarantine measures and travel bans remain in place.
On Monday, Eastern Health confirmed six staff members from Box Hill Hospital, in Melbourne’s east, were undertaking self-isolation.
The hospital group’s chief medical officer said that as of Monday, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the hospital or any of its facilities.
The RCH’s Dr Lewena said the health service was “extremely well-prepared” for the event of a coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s no way that we’d have staff who pose any risk to patients or the public, nor would we have an environment where we had any patients in our departments who we thought were an infectious risk would we have them in a situation where they’re a risk of spreading that infection,” he said.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton urged Victorians to “act on expert health advice in challenging times, not fear”.
“Victorians can be reassured that our actions are aimed at containing the spread of this virus. We have a world-class health system that can scale up and adjust to help deal with this outbreak as needed,” Dr Sutton in a statement.
“We are preparing for all possible scenarios.”
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