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Coronavirus: Chinese student in Sheffield ‘attacked for wearing face mask’

A call for unity in Sheffield

A Sheffield student was attacked for wearing a face mask to protect her from coronavirus, community workers have said.

The postgraduate student, who has not been named, was reportedly verbally and physically harassed at 1pm on Thursday while walking up West Street alone.

She was wearing her protective face mask and had been advised by media in China and Hong Kong to help citizens guard themselves from the deadly illness.

It comes as the UK reported its first positive cases of coronavirus, including a University of York student, amid an outbreak that began in China and has now been declared a global health emergency, infecting 9,000 people and claiming 200 lives.

The Sheffield Chinese Community Centre said the attack shows a lack of cultural understanding.

"Yesterday there was an incident on West Street when a student was walking down the street wearing a mask and was assaulted," said Sarah Ng, a member of staff at the centre.

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Sheffield Chinese community centre

“They were asking why she was wearing a mask and if she has a problem. She didn’t say anything because it was quite scary for her.

“It was a one-off incident but I’m thinking we need to put out a balanced message of understanding about why Chinese students are wearing masks.”

There are around 8,000 Chinese students in Sheffield, many of whom have been spotted wearing face masks in recent days. Some returned to their families in China for Lunar New Year celebrations last weekend.

Ng added: "The student is fine. She didn’t want to press charges. She understands now it was because the public doesn’t understand the situation.

“Over the last few years the city has been safe. Sheffield, as a city, has a very good understanding about minority groups and local populations living in harmony.”

Earlier this week Sheffield University told students to enter quarantine if they have returned from Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began, in the last fortnight.

The institution told all students in an email that if they show symptoms of the flu-like respiratory virus, they must stay isolated for 14 days and call NHS 111 rather than visiting a doctor’s surgery.

Featured image: SWNS/stock picture