Coronavirus Stigma Lingers Long After Disease Fades


Shuichi Takatori

spent two weeks in the hospital with a fever this fall after he contracted Covid-19. He has recovered, is back at work and feels good now.

But the disease manifested itself differently – Mr. Takatori says he felt in the community. The 60-year-old Japanese MP decided to reveal his illness, although he said he feared repercussions in next year’s elections, and rumours spread quickly.

The Japanese legislator Shuichi Takatori received Covid-19 in the fall. He recovered and went back to work.


Miho Inada/ Wall Street Journal

The restaurant where they ate called his office and asked for a refund. The assistant’s school basketball team was eliminated from the tournament. And a few weeks after his recovery, he said his family had forbidden him to come to his hometown for the first anniversary service of his father’s death.

Even now I find it embarrassing, said Takatori, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Doctors say that avoidance does not make much sense medically, because people who recover from Covid-19 are generally no longer contagious. And public health experts say that turning any infection into a moral failure – which can be unfair because the path of the virus is so random – can make it harder to fight the epidemic. Mr Takatori, for his part, said he took precautions and didn’t know why he was sick.

However, experts on social responses to disease say that the particularly pronounced responses in Asia were known from previous diseases.

Hitomi Nakayama,

A lawyer at the head of a task force advising the government on stigmatisation spoke about the history of the 20th century. This is a reference to the end of the 19th century, when patients with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, were unnecessarily medically isolated. Other examples, she said, include avoiding people who were exposed to radiation during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and those who live near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, which melted nearly a decade ago.

We can’t say the Japanese don’t have accurate information, but they don’t know how to act on the basis of science, Nakayama said. The infection is becoming some kind of infection, she says. In the indigenous Shinto religion, the community of a person considered polluted can also be polluted.

Rahuldeb Sarkar, who grew up in India and works as a doctor in the UK, said that patients with infectious diseases such as Hansen’s disease in India have been stigmatised for centuries and that anyone who comes into contact with them, including health professionals, can also be prevented. The practice seems to have extrapolated when it comes to Covid, Dr. Sarkar said.

Healthcare workers in India say that people avoid getting tested even if they have symptoms for fear that the diagnosis will cost them their friends or their job. In videos released in June by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, former Covid-19 patients said that people close their windows when walking past or avoid walking on the streets where the former patient is known.

The World Health Organisation warns that stigma may make it more difficult to combat epidemics and lead to more serious health problems.


What do you think of the stigma that some former Covid has 19 patients? Take part in the discussion below.

Dickie Pelupessy,

who teaches social psychology at the University of Indonesia, said his parent had done a quick test at his company, but didn’t want to go to the hospital. He tried to hide it, Dr. Pelupessy said. People worry more about the stigma than about the disease itself, he said.

A study by Dr. Pelupessi showed that one in five former coronaviruses in Indonesia was discriminated against after recovery. Indonesia has one of the lowest screening rates in the world.

Another practical effect is that healthcare providers are withdrawn from the care of patients with Covid 19. A government committee in Japan found that some nurses resigned after kindergarten and refused to take the children with them. In a study by the Japanese nurses’ association, 20 percent of the nurses reported discrimination.

There are fewer reports of long-term stigma in the United States and Europe, but even there there is a risk of stigma related to the medical profession. An online survey of more than 3,500 Americans and Canadians showed that a third of the respondents indicated that they avoid healthcare providers. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Regina in Canada: There are important, unrecognised and widespread stigmatising attitudes towards health professionals.

When the pandemic decreases with the availability of vaccines in 2021, the stigma cannot continue.

Shigeki Sakamoto,

The president of the Tokyo Centre for Human Rights Education and Training, which is part of the government, said that Covid-19, unlike Hansen’s disease, usually leaves no physical traces, so people may lose interest in the isolation of the infected in the past.

For the time being, however, it is likely that the problem will continue to spread as thousands of people in Japan are re-diagnosed with the coronavirus every day, according to Takatori.

When it meets again in January, Parliament intends to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination against current and former Covid 19 patients and their families, although it does not include penalties for offenders. Some local authorities have issued similar regulations.

I have to do something about this discrimination and the human rights violations, Takatori said. I don’t want to ruin my efforts.

Send an e-mail to Miho Inade at [email protected].

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