A south-east London MP has insisted comments referring to the deadly Covid-19 virus as “the foul Chinese illness” were not intended to denigrate Chinese people.

Former British Army Colonel Bob Stewart, who has been the Conservative member for Beckenham since 2010, also apologised for publishing “misleading” information in a series of Facebook posts uploaded over the weekend.

In one post, Mr Stewart rejected the “gloomy” picture of the coronavirus crisis he said was presented by the media, and posed the rhetorical question “is the bottle half-filled rather than half-empty?”

“Proportionately a very small percentage of people who contract the virus actually die,” he wrote in his original post, published on his Bob Stewart MP Facebook page. 

“Although the elderly are more likely to suffer serious consequences, most of them also survive. Two MPs to my knowledge have had Coronavirus and now, 14 days after they have contracted it, they are back to normal. Prince Charles, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock are all in isolation but continuing to work as normal by video conferencing.

“In truth most people who contract this foul Chinese illness seem to brush it off with a bit of a cough, a higher temperature and a headache.”

The comments drew immediate criticism from residents and political figures in the borough.

“I think I can safely speak for all Labour for Bromley members in absolute condemnation of these ignorant and racist comments from Bob Stewart. And (I) imagine that most Beckenham residents would agree, irrespective of their party affiliations,” Angela Wilkins, the opposition leader at Bromley Council, posted in response. 

Responding to requests for comment from the local democracy reporting service on Monday, Mr Stewart said he was “not trying to score points” in his reference to “the Chinese illness”.

“My grandfather died of Spanish Flu in 1919 and I used the words Chinese Flu in respect of where the virus originated, not denigrating the Chinese people,” he said.

“As a constituent e-mailed me and thought I was being rude about the Chinese I deleted the word ‘Chinese’ because that was not my intention.

“I was not trying to score points; simply to say where the illness seems to have originated.”

He also apologised for sharing a post containing several false claims on how to detect and combat coronavirus.

“As for putting out misleading information about coronavirus it seemed to make sense to me when I did so as I received the message from someone I trusted,” he said.

“I thought it might help. But I got that wrong.

“My own sister rang me within 40 minutes (she works in the health sector) and said parts of it were misleading.  I took it down immediately and apologised publicly.

“I accept I should have checked more thoroughly; it was my mistake but one of good intention.”

The comments come as Labour MP Sarah Owen urged political leaders to speak out against anti-Chinese racism in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a column published on anti-discrimination website HOPE Not Hate on Sunday, Ms Owen said Sinophobia had spiked since the worldwide spread of the virus. 

She said while “almost all of us were focused on coming together to slow the spread of the virus for society’s sake, some couldn’t resist the opportunity to indulge in cheap xenophobia”, pinpointing US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’.

“Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, and this pandemic has caused pain, suffering and disruption across the globe – and the world is united in the fight against it,” she wrote.

“The British Chinese and East Asian community are as worried for the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our society as everyone else, but they have an additional fear – that of racist attacks, prejudice and social shunning.

“In this new world of social distancing, we need to find new ways of showing solidarity with each other but even a friendly smile can make a big difference.”