Chinese officials tested and quarantined Africans who had not left the country since the outbreak began, who had not come into contact with anyone infected, who had already gone through a 14-day quarantine, and those who already received a clean bill of health. According to Xinhua, health officials tested 4,553 Africans in Guangzhou—111 had COVID-19.
As the reports of racist attacks drew the ire of Africans at home, Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffery Onyeama invited the country’s Chinese ambassador to discuss the allegations and called for an immediate intervention from the Chinese government. Two days later, Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, said he met with the Chinese ambassador to the union and also called for remedial measures.
In a statement, Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, condemned “this act of ill-treatment and racial discrimination.” South Africa and Kenya also issued similar disapprovals and called for a solution.
This was an unprecedented response from African leaders, who generally try to deal with issues regarding China behind the scenes in order not to embarrass the Chinese government, said Winslow Robertson, founder of the China-Africa consultancy Cowries and Rice.
Initially China claimed the reports were rumors and blamed Western media for stirring accusations to damage the China-Africa relationship—even though the reports circulated widely in African media. Despite the videos and proof, Guangzhou authorities said they don’t tolerate discrimination and they were only trying to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe claimed the problem was based on a “misunderstanding” and that the media was sensationalizing “isolated incidents.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted “the Chinese government is in close communication with our African brothers to ensure proper handling of the individual case. China-African friendship will never be shaken by wedge-driving attempt.”
To smooth things over, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would change its coronavirus restrictions on Africans, provide them healthcare without discrimination, and adjust the prices for quarantine stays in hotels based on financial needs. Chinese media posted videos of officials bringing Africans flowers during quarantine. In some cases, Africans filmed their own videos rejecting the gifts.