Corona-Shaming: Pandemic Brings Out Darker Side Of Our Society

No one should have known the name of this retired schoolteacher. But soon after becoming as Ecuador’s first coronavirus case, her name was all over the internet. For her family, it was duel tragedy unfolding right before their eyes, which they had no option but watch helplessly.

Bella Lamilla, did not know that her name along with photos showing her unconscious and intubated in a hospital bed was circulating on social media.

Strangers began tearing apart her reputation online. “Knowing she had it, the old lady didn’t care and went all around,” one person commented on Facebook. “It was ugly,” said Pedro Valenzuela, 22, Lamilla’s great-nephew. “It hurt a lot.”

The spreading global pandemic has tested the competing interests of public health and privacy, with thousands of individuals experiencing both physical illness and the less-visible stigma that can come with it.

While there are many stories about good deeds and people coming together, the coronavirus is also bringing out another, darker side of some people: Fear, anger, resentment and shaming.

In India, doctors have reported being evicted by landlords worried they’ll spread coronavirus to other tenants.

Newspapers had reported how stigma was directed against infected persons, their contacts, doctors and even Air India flight crew, who had been evacuating Indian citizens abroad.

In the town of St Michel in Haiti, people stoned an orphanage after a Belgian volunteer was diagnosed. In Indonesia, an early coronavirus patient was subjected to cruel innuendo suggesting she contracted it through sex work.

Taking precautions, keeping a safe distance from a person until he recovers fully are fine. But after that, he/she poses no threat to contacts.

People must be reminded that doctors who know most about this disease do not stigmatize or boycott patients or their contacts.

Psychologists say the desire to identify and castigate those who are ill harkens to an age-old instinct to protect oneself and relatives from catching a potentially fatal disease — and a belief, however unfounded, that those who get it bear some responsibility.

24-year-old woman, who returned from London to Raipur, tested positive for coronavirus on March 19. After being treated for 15 days at AIIMS in Raipur, she completely recovered on April 3 and was discharged from hospital.

Recalling the horror her entire family was subject to, she told India Today, “People on social media started circulating posts saying that our entire family has come back from London and we have put other lives in danger by not letting the doctors conduct tests on us. Within minutes, local channels started playing the same tune and before it could even register, I was compared to Kanika Kapoor and was defamed on social media for being irresponsible. But the fact is that my family and I got our tests done voluntarily. We never hid anything and never put anyone in risk, the woman said.

In India, many cases have been reported by media where people run away from treatment. As seen from the recent data in India, the stigma attached to COVID-19 and the fear of isolation may be the reasons for people shying away from being diagnosed.

Psychologists say the desire to identify and castigate those who are ill harkens to an age-old instinct to protect oneself and relatives from catching a potentially fatal disease — and a belief, however unfounded, that those who get it bear some responsibility.

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