Coronavirus: pandemic has exposed racial divides in Hong Kong, say equal opportunity campaigners
- Online seminar held on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination looked at impact of virus on members of city’s ethnic minority groups
- More could be done to bridge gap and language barrier, groups say
Ricky Chu man-kin, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said the virus had brought into focus racial divides and injustices that continued to exist.
Looking forward, he said he hoped people would be able to see the contribution ethnic minorities make to Hong Kong, and how they could help the city recover from the pandemic.
“My message to the ethnic minority community, especially the youth, would be to use this period of learning and rebuilding to sharpen their skills and equip themselves to participate equally in Hong Kong’s economy,” Chu said, adding acquiring Chinese-language skills “must be seen as a priority”.
The Hong Kong-born bilingual comedian, Vivek Mahbubani, who moderated the seminar said a recurring issue raised was about language barriers, and pointed to the fact that at the beginning of the pandemic most of the information about the coronavirus had only been provided in Chinese and English, making it difficult for some ethnic minority groups to understand.
Another issue raised in the seminar, he said, was a lack of cultural understanding by authorities, citing the example of some quarantine arrangements last year for members of the Muslim community observing Ramadan, during which adherents fast between sunrise and sunset.
Mahbubani said he counted himself lucky because he went to a local school and is fluent in Cantonese and could also read Chinese.
“I could see the big gap where I had the advantage of being able to speak the language,” he said. “With the news I was on the same level as a local Chinese person, versus my relatives who don’t read or write Chinese and can barely speak it. Very often I would be surprised they did not know about things and I would need to update them,” said the 38-year-old.
However, Mahbubani said he was encouraged by the many members of the community who had been proactive in helping with issues during the pandemic.
“The pandemic was a real test of speed,” he said. “It taught us we have to think fast, if there was a situation in which the community needs to step up, rather than passively waiting for the government or official bodies to take care of things.”