Spain’s Chinese community’s fight against coronavirus and xenophobia started early (South China Morning Post)

, , , , , ,

Weeks before the country went into lockdown, many Chinese-run shops had closed and workers in the remainder wore masks. When the infection arrived, fears of racially motivated insults were realised from abuse on the street to social media attacks

A Chinese woman puts up a closed notice at her business in Spain, along with an exhortation to citizens not to leave their homes during the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Antolin Avezuela

Chinese in Spain and coronavirus

Weeks before Spain announced a nationwide lockdown to combat the new coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese community there had already taken their own measures – shutting their stores, wearing masks, and banding together to fend off xenophobia.

“Because of the fear experienced in China, we see the epidemic differently than Spanish people,” said Xiao Kangyung, 36, who was born in Shanghai but has been living in Spain since 1996.

“In China, the situation is experienced at the other extreme of communication practice. We spread fear to the population to get people to stay home. So we have the feeling that the Spanish people have taken everything lightly, and haven’t made the right decisions,” she said.

The country of 46 million people has quickly become a hotspot for the disease in Europe, second only to Italy, where there have been 1,002 deaths and 19,980 contagions to date.

Most Chinese-run businesses in Spain have been closed since the end of February, weeks before the country went into lockdown because of the new coronavirus. Photo: Antolin Avezuela

Most Chinese-run businesses in Spain have been closed since the end of February, weeks before the country went into lockdown because of the new coronavirus. Photo: Antolin Avezuela

On March 8, mass marches in the streets – encouraged by the government – for International Women’s Day were followed by a dramatic increase in infections in the capital, Madrid. Days later, the Pedro Sanchez government followed the example of other countries fighting the pandemic and declared a national «state of alarm.»

The decree limited all movements except the essential – going to work, buying food or medicines, visiting the bank or attending to dependent people – for 15 days. Schools, universities, shops, bars and restaurants were all closed. And, from March 16, land borders were closed to everyone except Spanish nationals and residents.

For Spain’s 200,000 strong Chinese community, which had already been taking steps to minimise exposure to the virus, the government’s measures came too late. Signs had begun popping up on storefronts of Chinese-run shops at the beginning of March, saying “closed for holidays until the end of March” or “closed until further notice».

The number of businesses that closed due to the coronavirus ahead of the government-mandated lockdown is unknown, but Xiao, a lawyer and adviser to freelancers and SMEs, said “half of her clients” had done so.

Workers in the few stores which remained open before the lockdown wore face masks and notices next to cash registers apologised and explained the measure to customers. “We are sorry to use the masks at work. The reason is to better protect the entire population,” read a note in a Barcelona food store last week.