The Associated Press reports that the coronavirus in Japan brought not only an epidemic of infections, but also an attack of bullying and discrimination against patients, their families and health professionals trying to save lives.
A government campaign to raise awareness appears to be helping, at least for medical workers. But it has made limited progress in combating harassment and evasion that can discourage people from seeking testing and care and make the battle against the pandemic difficult.
In addition to the fear of infection, experts say that prejudice against those who are indirectly associated with the disease also stems from deeply held ideas about purity and cleanliness in a culture that rejects anything considered strange, impure or problematic.
Medical workers who risk their lives to care for patients are a prime target, but people who work in supermarkets, deliver orders and do other essential jobs are also facing harassment, as are their families.
"I can imagine that people fear the virus, but we are working hard on the front lines under enormous pressure," a 30-year-old nurse told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear that she could be targeted if identified. “We also have our own families. Discrimination against us just because we are medical workers is disheartening and demoralizing. "
The reaction against patients with coronavirus can lead some patients to avoid seeking medical attention, increasing the risk of infection spreading further, said clinical psychologist Reo Morimitsu at Suwa Red Cross Hospital in an interview with NHK public television. Reports say that Japanese police last month found about a dozen people killed at home alone or collapsed on the streets that later tested positive for the virus.
"The virus not only infects our bodies, but also our minds and behaviors, harming us and dividing our society," said Morimitsu.
Random acts of hatred against people with virus connections have been reported across the country, prompting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials to speak out.
"It is shameful," Abe said in a recent parliamentary session.