PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, some rideshare passengers of Asian descent feel as though they’re being discriminated against.
Rideshare drivers across the country are panicking about how to steer clear of the new virus, which has killed nearly 3,000 globally, mostly in China.
The ride-hailing apps, like Uber and Lyft, provide drivers and riders the first name, usually accompanied by a picture, of the person they’re connected with before pickup. The feature also allows either of the involved parties to cancel the ride if they want to.
Some passengers have reported being discriminated against by their drivers, or vice versa.
“My Uber driver in downtown Lanc said, ‘I have to ask. are you from China? Do you have coronavirus?’ to me, an Asian-American woman not from China and thankfully without coronavirus,” one woman tweeted.
“My Lyft driver coughed and immediately followed with, ‘I’m sorry! I’m not sick,'” another woman said. “I was confused, and he went on to tell me how people will make comments about something as simple as a cough and claim it’s the coronavirus… all because he’s Asian.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Lyft said the company takes all discrimination allegations very seriously.
The spokesperson also said Lyft is “monitoring official updates on the global outbreak closely, and taking our cues from international and domestic public health experts.”
Eyewitness News also reached out to Uber for comment on the alleged discrimination but has yet to hear back, though the company reportedly suspended 240 users in Mexico City, all of which were believed to have come into contact with the coronavirus.
Katherine Mason, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University, said, unfortunately, this type of discrimination is nothing new.
“The same discrimination happened with SARS and when the Ebola virus was prevalent and there was discrimination toward Africans,” Mason explained. “People always, unfortunately, need someone or something to blame even if it’s false.”
“Some people have developed this irrational fear of people of Asian descent. It’s a total misunderstanding of how a virus even works,” she added.
Mason said it’s important to have conversations about the concerns that bring about the discrimination.
“It’s important to do this to express broader fears and anxieties of anti-Asian sentiment going on right now overall,” Mason said.