Concern and fear are inevitable when the unknown threatens. With memories of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) still fresh, precautions are foremost in minds as the coronavirus that is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan spreads around the world. But accompanying the deadly illness are misinformation, preconceived notions and racial stereotyping. There is every danger that unless foreign governments and their citizens respond rationally, rising anti-Chinese sentiment could balloon into full-blown xenophobia . Caution is to be expected when a mystery illness appears. The World Health Organisation took great care in its deliberations in declaring a global health emergency and it can now help facilitate containment of the virus. Travel bans and quarantine measures being imposed by governments on those from affected parts of mainland China are justified to minimise risks. But there also has to be transparency and education to prevent overreaction and panic. Policies have to be balanced and properly explained to ensure people are not stigmatised. Australia’s government has come under fire for using a detention centre for asylum seekers on remote Christmas Island to quarantine evacuated citizens, most of them ethnic Chinese. Questions are being raised as to whether white Australians would be treated differently. Officials have defended the idea as the best short-term solution despite other countries returning citizens to hospitals in major cities. How ‘xenophobia’ spreads amid coronavirus, protests in Hong Kong Around the world, people of Asian appearance are being treated more warily, in some cases prevented from entering shops or eating at restaurants. Signs have been seen in store windows in Japan and South Korea saying that Chinese are not welcome . A Chinese vlogger visiting the Pacific island of Palau who posted a video of a bat soup meal – a local delicacy – was bombarded by derisory online comments claiming the outbreak was the result of Chinese fondness for eating wildlife and unsanitary habits. In Denmark, a diplomatic row has broken out after a newspaper published a cartoon showing the Chinese flag with the five stars replaced by images of the coronavirus. United States Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has played into anti-Chinese sentiment by contending that the outbreak could be good for the American economy by accelerating the return of claimed lost jobs. However, Beijing has shown understanding on the need for governments to implement strict border controls. Germs and viruses do not infect according to race. Xenophobia has no place in a health crisis and can distract from the serious effort to fight illness and disease. At this critical time, there is every need for international cooperation, not a fanning of anti-China flames.