A Kiwi Airbnb host cancelled the reservation of a Chinese guest and another asked if it would be seen as discrimination to cancel only guests from China, as fears over the deadly coronavirus mount.
The comments were made on a Facebook group for New Zealand Airbnb hosts this week, when coronavirus-related racist outbursts were also being felt in New Zealand by Chinese-Kiwis and Kiwis of Asian descent.
Globally hate speech and racist memes have also flooded social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook as the virus spreads beyond China.
More than 200 people have died and almost 10,000 have been infected, including in Australia. Yesterday afternoon, the Ministry of Health confirmed a person suspected to have coronavirus was undergoing tests and being kept in isolation in Auckland City Hospital.
In the Airbnb hosts' Facebook posts, one wrote that she had cancelled a Chinese guest six days before they were due to arrive on Thursday.
"Problem is I can't even see where in China they're coming from and airbnb couldn't help either. They basically fully expected that I'd be cancelling … interestingly I've not heard a peep from those guests."
Asked if she'd be penalised for cancelling, the host wrote "Yup" and posted screengrabs of messages she'd exchanged with Airbnb Support, which outlined that she could face a penalty.
Her messages to Airbnb centred on her inability, because of identity restrictions in China, to see what part of the country the guests were coming from and because she thought she might offend them if she asked.
In a later Facebook post the host wrote that she would "rather be charged the $100 penalty than take the risk".
"This is where I feel like airbnb are always pro-guests and not on hosts side. But in this situation I didn't care. Just that my family was safe."
Airbnb confirmed today they had reviewed the case and the host hadn't been penalised for cancelling. The guest had also not complained.
On the same Facebook group, another host asked, "Would it be seen as discrimination to cancel only guests from China?"
"We have Chinese guests due on the 1st Feb so mulling over what we do."
That prompted a reply of "100% yes" from another person.
"The virus is not targeting a race - any person who has travelled to China over the past 3 weeks is at risk. It is not only subject to Chinese people."
The host wrote that she thought that would be the case.
"Sorry, my wording wasn't the best. I'm wondering if we need to send a generic message to all of our upcoming guests and see if they will be travelling through China or affected areas before coming to us? Then cancelling based on that? But I also don't want to be penalised by Airbnb for cancelling guests."
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Airbnb did not tolerate racial discrimination and took any reports of it "extremely seriously", a spokesman for the accommodation broker said.
However, he believed the hosts were genuine in their health concerns.
"The extenuating circumstances policy was in place when the host reached out - it was more narrowly targeted [in a part of China] but since expanded as the crisis expanded."
The extenuating circumstances policy allows impacted hosts and guests - those travelling from or receiving guests from mainland China - the option of cancelling reservations without charge.
"As the situation evolves, we will be continuously evaluating and updating this policy, in line with official guidance. Impacted hosts and guests can reach out to our community support team at www.airbnb.com/help/home if they have questions or wish to cancel their reservations."
There were "legitimate, and understandable, public health concerns" and it was important to follow the instructions and advice from the Ministry of Health and Public Health Officers, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said yesterday.
"It is also important to be aware of obligations under the Human Rights Act, which prohibit discrimination in a number of circumstances and on a wide variety of grounds. These include ethnicity, national origins and having a physical illness and/or organisms in the body capable of causing illness."
There were some exceptions to the general rules, such as if there was an unreasonable risk of infecting others with an illness and steps couldn't be taken to reduce the risk, Foon said.
"We ask all New Zealanders to remain calm and follow instructions from the Ministry of Health and Public Health Officers.
"Please be kind, resist judging, and typecasting people based on their ethnicity, nationality or physical appearance. Victims of the types of abuse that are being reported are as equally worried about their health as other members of the community."
No complaints had been lodged with the commission in relation to coronavirus, he said.
Anyone who believed they had been discriminated against in breach of the Human Rights Act, could make a complaint to the commission.