A Malaysian student has described being evicted from her Perth home due to her landlord's fears about the coronavirus outbreak, despite the fact she had not travelled to China.
· The coronavirus outbreak has reached more than 40,000 cases so far
· Its origins in China have led to reports of racist attacks on Chinese people
· The student was targeted even though she only travelled to Malaysia
"Helen", who the ABC has agreed not to name for fears of further discrimination, said she rented a room at a townhouse in Perth's southern suburbs in November.
The community services student said she did not sign a lease but had a verbal agreement with the landlord, who also lived at the house, to pay $86 a week plus bills and other expenses.
Helen, who is of Chinese descent, travelled home to Malaysia on January 24 to visit family and friends for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
She said she flew back to Perth on February 4, arriving home at 4:00am to discover the locks had been changed and a note taped to the front door.
"WARNING – NO TRESPASSING", it said.
"House in lockdown due to coronavirus.
"Due to your failure to stay in contact with me with World Health Organisation GLOBAL EMERGENCY over coronavirus you are no longer welcome in this house."
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The note included a mobile phone number for Helen to call, adding that the owner had attempted to contact her while she was away "many times without success".
Her belongings had been left outside the house for her to collect.
Eviction linked to overseas trip
Helen said she did not receive any messages while in Malaysia, but found she had a number of text messages from the landlord when she returned to Australia, .
One of them clearly linked her eviction with her decision to travel during the outbreak.
"You made a decision to travel back home for the Chinese New year when when [sic] there was an outbreak of coronavirus," it said.
"There is no community transmission of this virus in Australia"
"There is no reason for people to be wearing masks, there is no reason for people to avoid anybody," he said.
Chung Wah Association of WA president Ting Chen told ABC Radio Perth he had received reports of racist behaviour and misinformation directed towards members of the local Chinese community.
He said one resident in the northern Perth suburb of Joondalup discovered the word "virus" had been painted on his driveway.
"This is totally unacceptable," he said.
He said patronage was also down at local Chinese restaurants.
"A few days ago I went to one of the popular Chinese restaurants and it was half-empty. People just fear going out for dinner," he said.
"However, I think Western Australia is a very safe place."
WA Premier Mark McGowan slammed the behaviour as "disgraceful and un-Australian".
"We are hearing far too many stories about people facing hate and discrimination just for their heritage," he said.
"Authorities are taking the novel coronavirus very seriously and there are a range of strict measures in place to prevent it from spreading.
"Now is the time for us to rally behind the communities that are feeling the effects of this outbreak and extend a helping hand."
According to official advice from the Department of Health, the people in Australia most at risk of getting the virus are those who have recently been in mainland China or have been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case.
Australia currently has 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus, none of which are in WA.
All of the cases in Australia have come from Wuhan except one person in NSW, who had contact in China with a confirmed case from Wuhan.
None of the Australian Government's travel bans or health advice relate to travel from Malaysia.
Treatment could be against the law
WA's Equal Opportunity Commission has encouraged Helen to make a complaint, saying it was against the law for a property owner or agent to discriminate against a tenant on the ground of their race or ethnicity.
"What's happened to Helen could actually be discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act," senior legal officer Allan Macdonald said.
The fact Helen had not entered into a written agreement did not diminish her rights.
"If someone in Helen's position were to lodge a complaint with us and said they have a relatively informal arrangement with the owner, that could still be covered by the area of accommodation under the act," he said.
"The Equal Opportunity Act is fairly broadly framed and it doesn't need to be necessarily a formal tenancy agreement."
Mr Macdonald said while the commission had only received a few inquiries so far, he was expecting more to trickle in.
"The world health organisation has declared a global emergency and I now have made a decision to change locks on the house and put your belongings outside as I am concerned for my welfare and family and friends.
"It was a hard decision to make between family and friends but as you have travelled we are very concerned and you are no longer welcome to come back to the house."
The messages were signed off with a name that matches the name on the land title documents for the property.
Helen told ABC Radio Perth she felt sad and confused because she had not been anywhere near China or the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.
"I haven't been to China [so] why do they think I have the virus?" she said.
Helen said she went to the police but they were unable to take any action because she did not have a formal rental agreement with the landlord.
She said she was now living with a friend.
The ABC attempted to contact the landlord but he hung up the phone and subsequent calls went to voicemail.
No travel bans for Malaysia
Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy this week said he was increasingly concerned about discrimination against people of Chinese background.
"We are very concerned about xenophobia and any sort of racial profiling, which is completely abhorrent," he said.