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Global report: virus has unleashed a 'tsunami of hate' across world, says UN chief

The Guardian logo The Guardian 08-05-2020 Helen Davidson and agencies

United Nations chief António Guterres has said the coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a “tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering”, and appealed for an all-out effort “to end hate speech globally.”

The UN secretary-general said anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and on the streets, and highlighted the spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories and Covid-19-related anti-Muslim attacks.

His comments came as China said it was “always open to cooperate” with World Health Organisation (WHO) investigations into the origins of the coronavirus, as Donald Trump repeated claims that the outbreak originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Chinese women dressed in traditional costume known as Hanfu tour the Forbidden City in Beijing © Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images Chinese women dressed in traditional costume known as Hanfu tour the Forbidden City in Beijing

Trump’s claims, for which the US is yet to provide evidence, have fuelled tension between the two superpowers and placed a crucial trade deal between the two countries in jeopardy.

The global death toll from the outbreak passed 269,500 on Friday and the WHO warned that deaths in Africa could reach 190,000. Mexico recorded its highest daily toll of 1,982.

As speculation swirled about where the virus originated, Guterres said migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus and then denied access to medical treatment.

“With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable, “he said. “And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs.”

Guterres called on political leaders to show solidarity with all people, on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy at a time when extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.

He called on the media, especially social media, to remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content, on civil society to strengthen their outreach to vulnerable people, and on religious figures to serve as models of mutual respect.

“And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness,” Guterres said.

The secretary-general stressed that Covid-19 “does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction”.


His global appeal to address and counter COVID-19-related hate speech follows his April 23 message calling the coronarivus pandemic a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.

On Thursday foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, said China supported WHO efforts to investigate the source of the virus, and “are always open to cooperate with the WHO on matters, including on the question of origin”.

Related: EU to propose process for how WHO can learn from Covid-19 outbreak

“China agrees to make a conclusion on the origin of the virus at an appropriate time,” Hua said.

Late on Thursday Trump insisted that “something happened” at the Wuhan lab. “Probably it was incompetence. Somebody was stupid,” he said.

Chinese officials and state media have reacted harshly to the claims, accusing Trump, Pompeo, and US officials of blaming China to cover up US failings in its outbreak-response, and seeking to improve Trump’s electoral chances.

The US is among a number of countries, including Australia, calling for an independent investigation into the source of the outbreak and for China to allow access, but the US has largely stood alone in pushing the theory that the virus originated at a Chinese laboratory, specifically the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The comments by Hua on Thursday appear at odds with information provided earlier by the WHO and confirmed just hours before Hua’s press conference, which suggested repeated requests for involvement had gone unanswered.

A spokesman confirmed to the Guardian on Thursday that the WHO’s emergency committee had recommended on 23 January, then again on 30 January, and again during its joint mission to Wuhan that “WHO and China investigate the animal source of the outbreak”.

The spokesman said the committee “reiterated its call for cooperation in an investigation” last week, and that the WHO had also made multiple inquiries with China about domestic investigations.

As of Thursday afternoon “arrangements for a meeting on the subject” were understood to still be in planning stages. 

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