Don't Blame Coronavirus Victims for Catching the Disease

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Han Hyun-woo

    September 07, 2020 13:30

    I had a swollen throat early last month and started coughing. I checked my temperature several times a day, and it was normal, but I could not help coughing in my mask on the subway and drew the uncomfortable stares from other commuters. But my biggest fear was spreading coronavirus to my coworkers, which could force my company to shut down. In the event I recovered thanks to taking medicine according to the advice of a doctor friend. I was relieved that I was not the first person in my company to test positive for COVID-19.

    One housewife could not sleep because she was so scared of being criticized by her neighbors after her son, who is in elementary school, developed a high fever and had diarrhea. He was diagnosed with acute enteritis. "I was so happy it was just enteritis," she wrote on her blog. Another friend who is a corporate executive placed himself in two-week's self-quarantine after someone from a gym he goes to tested positive for coronavirus. Once my friend tested negative, he said, "I was afraid I might be excluded from the next promotion had I tested positive."

    Office workers are apparently more worried about being the first person at work to contract the disease rather than about the disease itself. They fear being blamed for forcing their company to close down. According to a survey in July by the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University, infected people were more afraid of being criticized by their peers than they were about dying of the disease. The head of one state-run company publicly criticized an employee who tested positive by saying, "What excuse can you give for causing damage to the organization?" And the head of another state-run company who caught the virus on a golfing holiday ended up getting fired.

    The Japanese, as usual, already have a term for people ostracized due to the disease: "coronavirus ijime." That is the Japanese word for bullying. Healthcare workers at treatment centers in Japan found their children being rejected by childcare facilities. This is eerily reminiscent of the family members of atomic bombing victims who were ostracized in Japan for "breathing out poison" and residents of Fukushima, where a nuclear reactor accident occurred due to an earthquake in 2011, who suffered the same fate.

    Office workers joke that any employee with symptoms should come up with an alibi by having dinner with coworkers so they cannot be singled out. This is an uncomfortable reality. The virus will not go away soon, so anyone can become infected. People cannot be blamed if they do.

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