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Hong Kong student accused of having coronavirus was 'punched for wearing a face mask'

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 20/03/2020 By state political reporter Emily Baker
a person posing for the camera: A Chinese-Tasmanian community leader said face masks were viewed differently in the East and West. (Pixabay) © Provided by ABC NEWS A Chinese-Tasmanian community leader said face masks were viewed differently in the East and West. (Pixabay)

A Hong Kong student studying in Hobart has pleaded for understanding after he was taunted and punched in the face for wearing a medical face mask at a local supermarket.

Tasmania Police, the state's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner and Chinese community leaders have condemned the attack, which quickly led to a 38-year-old man from New Town being jailed after pleading guilty to common assault.

The student, who asked to be known as Ted, was with a friend in the New Town Plaza car park on Thursday evening when a man shouted "you've got the virus" and "go back to your country".

Ted said he tried to ignore the man but was followed to his car and punched in the face, breaking his glasses and bruising his eye.

"I heard of some cases where an overseas student got punched because they were wearing a mask and people thought [they had the coronavirus]," he said.

Pictures: Coronoavirus (COVID 19) outbreak

"I never thought it would happen to me."

A similar incident happened recently to his housemate in a Hobart KFC, Ted said.

"He was wearing a mask with my friends and there were a few young teenagers who were laughing at him," he said.

"They're not very polite — being rude to my friends, trying to fight them."

Face masks seen differently in East and West: community leader

Chinese-Tasmanian community leader Yongbei Tang said she was "deeply saddened" when she heard of the "despicable" attack.

"The West regards wearing a face mask as a way to protect yourself after you are sick, but the East thinks of it as a way to protect both yourself before you get sick and others in case you are sick yourself," Ms Tang said.

"I really hope for better cross-cultural understanding on this matter.

"We need to fight against the spread of COVID-19 together, not fight with each other."

Tasmania Police confirmed the New Town Plaza incident.

"[The offender] appeared in court this morning [on Friday] and was sentenced to two months' jail after pleading guilty to common assault," Inspector Laurie Huxley said.

"Thankfully, the victim did not suffer serious physical injuries.

"There is no excuse for verbal or physical abuse in our community and violence will not be tolerated."

Tasmanian coronavirus cases visited Iran, Nepal, North America and UK

Tasmania's Public Health Services were unable to confirm exactly where any of the state's 10 confirmed coronavirus patients contracted the disease, but most had travelled from overseas through mainland Australia before arriving in the state.

Countries visited included Iran, Nepal, South America, the Philippines, North America, the UK and regions of Europe.

Anti-discrimination commissioner Sarah Bolt warned in February of a national rise in racist attacks against people of Asian appearance linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, she said she was "concerned" to hear reports of it happening in Hobart, urging anyone affected to contact her office and Tasmania Police.

"This is a unique and stressful time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reports that people from overseas are being targeted it disappointing," she said.

"Race discrimination and inciting hatred on the ground of race is against the law in Tasmania."

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