A top Chinese health official warned people against having skin-to-skin contact with foreigners to avoid contracting monkeypox, spurring a backlash among the country’s dwindling expatriate community.
China reported its first case of the infectious disease on Friday in Chongqing, a municipality in southwestern part of the country. The patient has been isolated and the risk of an outbreak is low, the local health commission said in a statement on its website.
Despite the reassurance, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested extreme steps to dodge the virus that has caused an onslaught of infections worldwide since an outbreak was reported in Europe in May.
“To prevent possible monkeypox infection and as part of our healthy lifestyle, it is recommended that one, you do not have direct skin-to-skin contact with foreigners,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the CCDC, said on his official Weibo page on Saturday.
Monkeypox has been diagnosed in more than 52,000 people, mainly men, in 102 countries and led to at least 18 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. It is generally spread via close contact, such as touching a contaminated object or one of the skin lesions that are a symptom of the disease. There’s no evidence of a racial component.
China’s zero tolerance approach to Covid, including restrictions that curbed international travel, may have limited its exposure to the burgeoning global outbreak. The idea that foreigners could be spreading it, however, was offensive to many.
The announcement makes everyone feel angry, said a teacher from the UK in Shandong province, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive issues. While racism happen everywhere, in most countries people know its wrong and they speak out about it, the teacher said. But in China, the drumbeat that foreigners are dangerous is continuous, they said, describing it as state-sponsored racism.
Wu cited past transmission in justifying his remarks, saying the disease spread from Europe and North America to the Western Pacific, including Australia, Singapore, Japan and Thailand. Then Hong Kong and mainland China reported infections, he said.
“The spread of AIDS was like this, and the spread of monkeypox epidemics currently reported is similar,” Wu wrote.
The blog post also warned against direct contact with the skin of people who returned from abroad within three weeks. People should also disinfect or place a disposable cover on toilet seats if using them in public or hotel washroom facilities, he said.
“It’s necessary and very important to strengthen the monitoring and prevention of monkeypox epidemic at the social level,” Wu added.