14/04/2020 3:11 PM AEST | Updated 01/07/2020 11:12 AM AEST

MasterChef Australia's Reynold And Derek On Facing Racism Amid Coronavirus

"They just stared at me like I was the worst thing to walk the earth."

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‘MasterChef Australia’ stars Reynold Poernomo and Derek Lau have shared their experiences facing racism amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Speaking to HuffPost Australia, current ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ contestant Reynold said the recent wave of discrimination towards Asian Australians has been “very appalling to see”, and he’s feared coughing in public or wearing a mask because of people’s reactions. 

The 26-year-old, who was born in Indonesia, explained he was sick a few months ago ago before Covid-19 was as big a health crisis as it now is in Australia. 

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MasterChef Australia's Reynold Poernomo

“I had bronchitis so was coughing quite a bit and this is just before everything got really crazy,” said Reynold. “So it was really hard for me to cough in public. 

“If I cough, people would just straight away look at me. It’s hard, it’s scary for any of us to cough. But it is very appalling to see the [racism].”

Acknowledging “I don’t blame them, it is something that we all fear about this virus”, Reynold said he understood everyone should “try to be aware of being safe and other people’s health and safety as well, regardless of whether you’re sick or not”.

“But I guess at the same time, racism is not really an exception,” he added. 

MasterChef Australia: Back To Win contestant Reyold Poernomo told HuffPost Australia: "Not in the show, but what [racism] I’ve kind of faced is outside when I wear a mask". 

‘MasterChef Australia’ 2019 contestant Derek, whose family is from Hong Kong, said he noticed “a sense of casual racism” when he returned to Australia from Bali in February. 

“I felt a sense of casual racism when I was coming back through immigration. I was immediately asked if I had been to China (when my papers had obviously said Bali), but was looked upon condescendingly as if I was someone that could be exposed,” he told HuffPost Australia.

“It was more the tone of the voice, and the racial profiling. Whilst it may have been small, it was that small sense of uneasiness that for the first time I felt that tinge of racism and assumption that because it had originated in China, that I was someone to blame.” 

MasterChef Australia 2019 contestant Derek Lau

He also recounted a similar experience to Reynold. 

“I remember when Covid-19 was just starting to grow, and I was out for dinner and I coughed,” he said. “The table next to me just stared at me like I was the worst thing to walk the earth. It’s just disappointing to see.

“For me, yes, it originated in Asia, but at the same time we are all part of working together to keep flattening the curve.

“I have an equal chance as anyone standing next to me (1.5m away that is), of picking up the sickness. We can’t just place the blame on someone. If anything, the pandemic should help to bring people together, and be thankful for the things that we have each day.” 

Last week a group of high-profile Chinese Australians signed a letter calling for national unity in the face of a “marked escalation in racial abuse towards Asian Australians”. 

Led by the Chinese Australia Forum’s president Jason Yat-Sen Li, the letter said “it is essential that the distrust, disenfranchisement and vilification of Asian Australians not be tolerated at any level” during this global crisis. 

Former ‘MasterChef Australia’ winner Adam Liaw, author and journalist Benjamin Law, and commentator Jieh-Yung Lo were amongst the 16 people who signed it.