A woman was beaten unconscious after defending a Chinese friend from abuse, amid an apparent spike in racist attacks since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Meera Solanki, 29, was attacked in a Birmingham bar after confronting a man who told Mandy Huang, 28, to “take your f**king coronavirus and take it back home”.
West Midlands Police have launched an investigation into the assault, one of a string of reported racist attacks across in the country linked to coronavirus.
Ms Solanki, a trainee lawyer, was celebrating her birthday when her attacker began to harass her friends. After continually bothering and attempting to spit at the group, the man allegedly began shouting racist slurs at Ms Huang.
“I was shocked and angry so I shouted for him to stop and tried to push him away,” Ms Solanki told the Sunday Mercury. “He punched me in the head, I hit the pavement and was knocked unconcious.”
She was taken by ambulance to Heartlands Hospital where she spent six hours while being treated for concussion, the local newspaper reported. She was not able to work for a week after the attack.
“I was so shocked and horrified by his aggressive behaviour and horrific words,” Ms Solanki said. “As I lay unconscious he continued to threaten my friends and abuse them before walking away calmly with his group of friends who did nothing to stop him or help me.”
A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: ”We’re investigating after a woman was assaulted after another was racially abused in Frederick Street, Hockley, around 2am on Sunday, February 9.
“A man made racist remarks to one woman and after he was asked to stop he punched another female, in her 20s, in the face. She was temporarily knocked unconscious but escaped without serious injury.
“The attacker is described as Asian, 5ft 8ins, of large build and was wearing a flat cap and hoodie at the time.”
Police forces in London, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and York are also investigating incidents of verbal and physical abuse in which the perpetrators made reference to coronavirus.
In the first week of February, at least five members of the Chinese community in Portsmouth and Southampton are believed to have suffered verbal and physical abuse during which the virus was mentioned, according information handed to Hampshire Police.
In one incident, a public bus driver refused to allow a woman wearing a face mask onto the vehicle, while elsewhere a female university student was called a “f***ing virus” as she walked home wearing a face mask.
Another student allegedly had stones thrown at him in Southampton town centre by male and female suspects, who shouted racist abuse involving the word “coronavirus” and told him to go back to his “f***ing country”.
Members of the Chinese community are reportedly cautious of wearing face masks in case they prompt abuse, while the University of Southampton’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association created an anti-racism poster with the words: “I am not a virus. I am a human.”
“The atmosphere is very negative, partly because of the news and the media, and the fake news you see on Facebook,” said Dr Michael Ng, chair of the Chinese Association of Southampton, which has documented incidents and has raised more than £8,000 to buy medical equipment to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in China.
“There are people who are misinformed and people who are already racist and use it as an excuse. We are trying to educate people that if we put on masks it doesn’t mean that we carry the virus.”
He told The Independent it was a problem “not only affecting the Chinese, it’s affecting all the Asians, anybody who looks like Chinese”.
While the number of people perpetrating acts of physical and verbal abuse has apparently increased, less overt instances of racism, or “micro-aggressions”, appear even more widespread.
A recent poll by Ipsos Mori found 14 per cent of UK respondents would “avoid contact with people of Chinese origin or appearance”.
Some East Asians have reported members of the public trying to avoid them on public transport. Mimi Aye, a food writer of Burmese heritage, shared pictures of the empty seats left around her on a London tube train with “standing room only”.
In London’s typically bustling Chinatown, some restaurants reported a drop in business, with one food critic claiming: “I’ve never seen it like this before.”
“I think it’s really problematic the way in which [the coronavirus] has been racialised, so seen as something pertaining to Chinese and South East Asian people specifically rather than a virus that is indiscriminate,” activist Diana Yeh told Channel 5 News on Thursday.