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Fear of the Coronavirus Sparks Racist Hashtags on Indonesian Social Media

Indonesia has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but now netizens are calling for a travel ban on Chinese nationals.

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
29 January 2020, 10:51pm

Chinese tourists on the Balinese island of Nusa Penida. Photo via SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

As the novel coronavirus (nCoV 2019) continues to claim more lives, governments worldwide are scrambling to prevent the disease from crossing their borders. As of Wednesday, January 29, the death toll stands at 132, with at least 6,062 cases having been reported worldwide.

With the large number of passengers traveling to and from China, where the virus originated, airports worldwide have been utilising temperature scanners to identify potential carriers of the virus.

Amidst the panic caused by the epidemic, Indonesian netizens did not take lightly a video of West Sumatra Governor Irwan Prayitno greeting 174 Chinese nationals at his province’s airport on January 26.

The video couldn't have come at a worse time. Frustrated with the Indonesian government’s slow response to the issue and the fact that temperature scanners aren’t that effective, some Indonesian netizens launched the hashtag #TolakSementaraTurisChina (#TemporarilyBanChineseTourists) to Twitter’s trending topics.

The hashtag eventually evolved to include even more racist tweets, with netizens calling on the Indonesian government to deny entry to all Chinese nationals.

Other netizens used the hashtag as an excuse to target Indonesian nationals of Chinese descent. Following a series of tweets about the coronavirus outbreak, one Twitter user posted a thread of racist videos calling for the expulsion of Chinese-Indonesians from Indonesia.

“Look at what the Chinese do to our nation. We must not become a Chinese puppet or slave. Send them home!” he tweeted.

Netizens also targeted Indonesian Minister of Health Terawan Putranto, who, in an effort to prevent citizens from panicking, downplayed the severity of the epidemic.

At the time of writing, Indonesia still has no confirmed cases of the virus. While numerous patients have been tested, eight patients remain under quarantine: four in Central Java, two in Bandung, one in Sidoarjo, and one in West Papua. The patients consist of both Indonesian and Chinese nationals, including Chinese tourists and Indonesian students who returned from Wuhan, the center of the epidemic

At least eleven others were also quarantined, but supposedly tested negative for the virus.

At least 93 Indonesian students are awaiting evacuation from Wuhan. In a video, one student named Rio commented that Wuhan had become a “ghost town” and that prices of goods were skyrocketing. “Our scholarships no longer cover our cost of living,” he said.

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.