For a Chinese Traveler, Even Paradise Comes With Prejudice


Jeju Island, with white sand beaches and a volcanic landscape, is a slice of paradise off the coast of South Korea, but Iris Yao has not found it particularly relaxing.

Ms. Yao, a 22-year-old student, arrived on the resort island last month for a short stay on her way back to her university in Sydney, Australia, from her hometown in Zhoushan, China. Since then, she has been virtually marooned.

She is one of tens of thousands of Chinese travelers whose plans have been upset by rapidly changing regulations thrown up across the region as the coronavirus has spread.

But instead of the warm welcome once extended to wealthy Chinese tourists, the island’s locals have met her and other Chinese visitors with worry, discrimination and fear.

Some restaurants on the resort island have banned Chinese citizens. Employees at one asked her not to speak Mandarin while eating there, fearing she would scare away customers.

“The fear toward the virus is everywhere,” she said. “I think it’s unfair for all Chinese citizens; they are not allowed to go into restaurants or cannot speak Mandarin.”

What was supposed to be a short detour on her way to begin another semester of studies in Australia turned into an anxious limbo when that country joined others in banning travelers arriving directly from mainland China.

Now, she must wait. According to the current regulations she cannot make her way to Australia until she has been out of China for at least 14 days. Alone in a foreign country and made to feel like a pariah has left Ms. Yao depressed and frustrated.

“I just want to stay in a safe place,” she said.

Fears over the virus have fueled discrimination around the world. In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan trended recently on Twitter. In Singapore, thousands of residents signed a petition calling on the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Even in China, people listen for accents distinctive to Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, and shun residents: avoiding them on public transportation and denying them entry to restaurants and other public spaces.

Ms. Yao landed on Jeju last month after spending the Lunar New Year in Zhoushan, in the coastal province of Zhejiang. The province is one of the hardest hit by the new coronavirus outbreak, with more than 1,100 confirmed cases.

One day after arriving in Jeju, the Australian government restricted entry for travelers who had recently been to mainland China — a ban it is set to extend on Saturday.


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