When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic broke out in 2002, not many knew the source of the virus. It is now established that it originated from bats. - NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAAD

COVID-19 can be lethal. The world knows this. But there is something more lethal: Sinophobia. It is far more contagious and extremely hard to cure.

Victims of Islamaphobia and other forms of racism know this only too well. It just refuses to go away. When Covid-19 was 2019-nCoV, people were falsely thinking that the Wuhan virus attacks only the Chinese. Until it infected a Caucasian.

There have been others. But the prejudice has stayed. Blame it on Frederick Forsyth’s novel Icon, which entertains such racist possibility. There a flu-like virus is manufactured in a Russian lab to kill only Muslims in the autonomous region of Dagestan.

To be fair to the English author, racism is of older vintage. As one writer put it, sinophobia is just an old racism in a new language. We can’t agree more.

And the new language is spreading fast. A Feb 4 BBC report coming out of Italy shows how racism can take a turn for the worse. Italians who frequented Chinese restaurants are said to be staying away from such East Asian outlets.

A music school in Rome has asked its Chinese students not to attend classes fearing incidents of racism. More worryingly, a bar in Rome has put up a notice banning the Chinese from its premises.

This isn’t just an Italian job. Britain, Australia, America and Canada are also hosting the hate. Not too different from how the British kept the Malayans away from the clubs: Asians and dogs are not allowed.

Prejudice thrives when fiction is dressed up as fact. It is claimed that Covid-19 infects only the Chinese because they are dirty and eat strange animals. Fiction.

For every dirty Chinese, we can point to a dirty Caucasian, Malay, Indian, and every race in between. Personal hygiene is not hereditary. It is all about nurture, not nature. Like father, like son.

That is all the science there is to it. As for the strange animals, the Chinese aren’t the only ones eating them. The late Anthony Bourdain, the American celebrity chef, dispelled the myth on television for all to see.

But the point is this: we should not eat wildlife. Because they host lethal viruses. And they are race-blind. The Caucasian and non-Chinese victims of Covid-19 will vouch for it.

When the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic broke out in 2002, not many knew the source of the virus. It is now established that it originated from bats.

The World Health Organisation says bats may be the likely source for Covid-19 too. Not only bats must be left alone, so must intermediate hosts such as snakes, civet cats and what have you. For they can be infected by the saliva, urine and faeces of bats.

Admittedly, staying away from wildlife doesn’t end racism. Prejudice is after all a disease of the heart. It is there we must look for a cure. Compassion for our fellow men departs when some mysterious malignance lodges itself there.

The origin of this ailment is a learned way of seeing. Sadly, some of us have been nurtured that way. This we must unlearn. After all, we are all of one race — the human race.