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‘Corona time’: Belgian school under fire for racist class photo

A group of Sint Paulus school students in Belgium posed in stereotypical Chinese clothing and held up a "Corona Time" sign.
A group of Sint Paulus school students in Belgium posed in stereotypical Chinese clothing and held up a "Corona Time" sign. @broodjekaasmetsambal/Instagram

A Belgian school has been criticized for sharing a photo of students dressed in stereotypical Chinese clothing, making racist gestures and holding a sign that alludes to the new coronavirus.

According to activist Instagram account @broodjekaasmetsambal, the photo in question was shared on the official Instagram account of @CollegeWaregem, a school in Belgium. The photo has since been deleted and the account has been deactivated.

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Students in the photo donned stereotypical Chinese hats and robes, with some dressed as pandas. One person appears to be stretching her eyes sideways in a gesture considered racist toward people of Asian descent. They hold up a sign that reads: “Corona Time.”

According to the Independent, the school in question has been identified as Sint-Paulus school campus College Waregem, a secondary school in Waregem, Belgium.

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The school has since released a statement regarding the incident, writing: “They chose an outfit long beforehand, in this case even long before there was any mentioning of the coronavirus. The students alluded to the recent events in a playful way by adding a sign.”

Sint Paulus school campus College Waregem shared a statement regarding the racist photo a group of students posed for, featuring stereotypical Chinese clothing and a “Corona Time” sign.
Sint Paulus school campus College Waregem shared a statement regarding the racist photo a group of students posed for, featuring stereotypical Chinese clothing and a “Corona Time” sign. @Mirandanthistle/Twitter

“Neither the school team, nor the students involved have ever had the intention of adopting a condescending or offensive attitude,” the statement continues. “Nonetheless, the school would like to express its apologies publicly and explicitly through this statement.

“We did not estimate the consequences of publishing this picture correctly and we regret having offended certain population groups by it.”

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The Instagram account that published the photo after it was deleted is calling for the school to take more responsibility.

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“In the meantime, the school has silently removed the photos, but this certainly does not solve the problem and shows once again how much it is necessary to deal with racism and discrimination in education,” the caption reads.

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“As an educational institution, you have a very large influence on the future generation. The fact that you approve of this kind of behaviour and promote it yourself on your channels is far from responsible and shows that something is wrong with you.”

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Rui Jun Luong, a Rotterdam-based photographer, also shared the photo, writing: “Unbelievable. How can people get it into their head [that it is OK] to put this on, make the board, pose for the photo including gloves and pulling eyes… that this school in Belgium with the slogan ‘Warm Heart, Fresh Look, Open Mind’ approved and published.”

Luong went on to call the photo “offensive” and “racist,” adding that it is “ridiculing our culture.”

The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.

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Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

READ MORE: How many Canadians have coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca