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Editorial: Discrimination against patients only hurts efforts to combat virus

  • April 20, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:01 p.m.
  • English Press

The new coronavirus continues spreading in Japan, wreaking havoc on society, with more than 10,000 confirmed cases of infection reported across the nation.

 

The pandemic has left Japanese people gripped by a gloomy sense of uncertainty and frustration, bringing out the ills and contradictions of their society that are usually hidden beneath the surface. These deep-seated problems manifest themselves in various forms.

 

One disturbing manifestation of social ills is a rash of cases of discrimination against infected people.

 

Some of these cases involved clusters of infection produced by careless and thoughtless behavior. A group of more than three dozen university hospital interns held a social gathering, for instance, while a handful of senior police officers held a drinking session, both in late March, when a sense of crisis about the virus outbreak was growing.

 

These people deserve to be criticized given the seriousness of the situation.

 

But it is wrong to assume that all the people who have become infected have contracted the virus because of their own fault or irresponsible conduct, and should be treated accordingly.

 

It is possible that people will contract the virus even if they avoid confined and crowded spaces where people come in close contact and wash their hands as often as possible.

 

We have learned that one puzzling and troublesome feature of the virus is the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission with a sizable group of patients remaining symptom-free throughout infection.

 

People should not draw a line between them and coronavirus patients and treat infected people as if they were pariahs.

 

If infected people continue to face criticism and attacks, potential patients could start hesitating to see a doctor or hiding their recent actions. That could cause the virus to spread faster and wider.

 

Some facilities have suffered damage from vicious rumors after they voluntarily announced that they had been visited by an infected person. Spreading such harmful rumors about people and facilities hit by the virus and acting on them simply runs counter to the need of united efforts to control the spread of the virus.

 

There have been numerous reports about outrageous harassment against medical workers who are directly involved in the treatment of coronavirus patients.

 

A related academic society had to issue a statement protesting such abuse against medical workers as early as February. A labor union of these workers has also cited serious discrimination against them as well as shortages of manpower and medical materials as major problems they are facing. Even their children and other family members suffer, according to the union.

 

It is understandable that people become nervous about the risk involved in medical workers’ jobs due to news reports about in-hospital infections.

 

But harassment against medical workers only adds to the already crushing mental burden they have to bear as they struggle with the exhausting work and contributes to pushing medical institutions involved in this battle to the breaking point.

 

This is the time to express our gratitude and support for medical workers’ arduous daily efforts by applauding them as in a movement that started in Europe.

 

We should also show warm appreciation to people involved in work vital for keeping society running but facing similar cruel treatment, including distribution truck and home delivery drivers.

 

The government has embarked on taking actions to curb this harmful trend, such as broadcasting TV messages against discrimination against these workers based on misunderstanding and prejudice.

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and prefectural governors should assist this campaign by sending their own strong messages about the issue to the public.

 

History shows infectious diseases have always been inseparably linked with discrimination and harassment. It is still fresh in our memories how the past policy of forcibly segregating leprosy patients caused serious human rights problems.

 

To protect people’s lives and livelihoods during the long battle against the virus, it is crucial to maintain society’s openness and sensibility.

 

Each member of society can help prevent the virus outbreak from causing discrimination and moral decay as its nasty side effects by maintaining the proper mindset.

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