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Why we shouldn’t see face masks as an ‘Asian thing’

Asian-Australians have been way ahead of the government and were quick to wear facemasks when the pandemic began. Yet since the outbreak in Wuhan, we have copped a great deal of racism. We’ve been accused of being bat-eaters and unhygienic virus carriers. A white woman told my brother, who was wearing a mask, that he should be wearing it because he’s Chinese. She didn’t need to, she said, because she’s “Australian”.

Once, three people walked past my brother and imitated Bruce Lee battle cries. The other day, when I went grocery shopping, I ordered a coffee. I practised social-distancing rules and when another customer saw me, she looked at me like gum she found under her shoe. She scuttled away and stood next to someone else, who wasn’t Asian. She didn’t know the person and she wasn’t even standing 1.5 metres apart. I was wearing a face mask.

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Some people I know resist face masks citing reasons such as “I’m healthy”, “it’s uncomfortable” and “it’s ugly and annoying”.

Since April, European countries and the US have followed the footsteps of Asia in emphasising the importance of face masks. Some American states have required citizens to wear masks if they’re out in public. In France, face masks are compulsory on public transport, at secondary schools and, starting this week, in shops and indoor spaces. The British have announced masks must be worn inside shops from July 24.

Australian health experts have said face masks won’t make you infection-proof, but they help reduce the risk of transmission. If we continue to regard them as an “Asian thing”, I fear widespread infection will become an “Australian thing”.

Hsin-Yi Lo is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She was a journalist with Newsquest UK.

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