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Editorial: Coronavirus pandemic testing Japanese society’s tolerance

  • May 20, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

There has been an upsurge in words and deeds that ostracize others over the novel coronavirus in Japan.


In particular, discrimination and harassment toward people who have been infected with the virus is serious. There has been a case in which a stone was thrown into the home of a person with the infection. Online, there are posts that try to identify infected individuals.


People around those who have been infected have also become targets of discrimination and harassment. When infection spread from a student at Kyoto Sangyo University — in the western Japanese prefecture of Kyoto — returning from Europe, the university received threatening calls, and students unrelated to the case were asked not to come to their part-time jobs.


If discrimination against individuals who are infected with the virus continues, it could lead to people not consulting with or going to see health professionals out of fear of being discriminated against. There is a concern that as a result, this could lead to further spread of the infection.


Perhaps it is from anxiety and fear of the virus that the desire to keep those infected away from oneself arises. It is said that the stress from having to lead a quarantined life, refraining from doing the things one usually does, can further discriminatory sentiment.


There has been case after case of famous people and the organizations with which they are affiliated apologizing when they contract the virus. It is worrisome if the tendency to blame those who become infected has become the norm throughout Japanese society.


Even if one avoids crowded spaces and washes one’s hands well, there are times when infection happens. But even if it was a result of careless behavior, that’s no reason for one’s character to be attacked.


There have been cases in which paper with defamatory comments written on them have been pasted onto stores that are operating on shorter hours in accordance with the requests of local governments, and cars that have license plates from out of the prefecture are damaged. The term “self-restraint police” entered the vernacular, referring to the way in which members of the public are policing how everybody else is exercising self-restraint.


This probably occurs against a backdrop of anxiety about the virus, and dissatisfaction toward the fact that they are refraining from doing things they want to do but perceive that others aren’t, and anger that others are rocking the boat. However, actions that personally sanction the actions of others are unacceptable.


There is also no end to false rumors online that could lead to discrimination. We must calmly distinguish what is true from what is not, and make sure not to spread falsities.


It will continue to be important for the top officials at the national and local governments in Japan to keep putting out messages. They must find every opportunity to strongly send the message that discrimination will not be tolerated.


Anti-coronavirus measures call for people to keep their distance from each other. We want to prevent that distance coming between our hearts, however. Our society is being tested for its strength to resist intolerant action, and maintain interpersonal ties.


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