Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas echoed other lawmakers in his party and President Donald Trump and said he did not find the term “Chinese virus” controversial when describing the novel coronavirus.
Asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether describing the novel coronavirus as Chinese was acceptable, Cornyn replied, “That’s where it came from.”
“Well, I think China is to blame because the culture where people eat bats, and snakes, and dogs, and things like that,” Cornyn said. “These viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the Swine Flu.”
“And now the coronavirus,” Cornyn added. “So I think they have a fundamental problem. And I don’t object to geographically identifying where it’s coming from.”
But while SARS, also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is a virus transmitted by an animal and was first identified in China in 2002, other illnesses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) originated elsewhere.
MERS, which had a patient fatality rate of 30-40%, was discovered in Jordan in 2012. All of the cases have been linked to “countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Swine Flu, otherwise known as the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, was first discovered in humans in the US. Scientists linked gene segments in the virus with other influenza viruses amongst pigs, in this case, North American pig herds and Eurasian pig herds, the CDC said. The CDC estimated that by 2010, there were over 61 million cases and over 270,000 hospitalizations due to the virus, and 12,469 people were killed.
Republicans, including Trump, have described the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” and the “Chinese virus.” Scientists believe the pandemic originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China; however, activists have urged the media and others “to ensure accurate and fair portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans,” and avoid fueling xenophobia amid the outbreak.
Several hate crimes and acts of discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans were documented across the US in recent weeks. An Asian man who declined to be identified was walking with his 10-year-old son in New York on Saturday, when he alleged 44-year-old Raoul Ramos screamed at him for not wearing a mask, according to The New York Post.
Other lawmakers railed against characterizing the coronavirus based on its purported origins. Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the first Chinese-American woman to serve in Congress, described Cornyn’s comments as “disgusting.”
“Disparaging an entire ethnic group and culture like this is bigotry, plain and simple,” Chu said in a statement to Insider. “Blaming Chinese people en masse for the spread of this disease is the exact same bigoted line that was used to justify the Chinese Exclusion Act over a century ago.”
“Republicans have been warned by health experts, by Trump administration officials, by Asian American organizations and constituents,” Chu added. “At this point, Republicans have made a calculation that it is in their best interest to use people of Chinese ethnicity as a scapegoat, and people’s lives will be in danger until they stop.”
Cornyn, in his original statement, said he disagreed with critics who opposed the phrasing.
“I don’t think we’re not talking about Asians,” Cornyn said. “We’re talking China, where these viruses emanate from.”
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