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Japan medical workers in coronavirus response facing on-the-job harassment

Emergency service workers are seen near the cruise ship Diamond Princess at anchor at Yokohama Port in the city's Tsurumi Ward in this file photo taken on Feb. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- Japanese doctors and other medical staff who have examined people on the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship and returnees from the outbreak's epicenter in Wuhan, China, are being harassed at work, a medical practitioners' group said.

"Some medical workers who risked their health to save others have reported being treated unbelievably unfairly," including being regarded as "germs" by their colleagues, a Feb. 22 statement released by the Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine (JADM) says. "This should be regarded as a human rights issue. We strongly protest and demand that the situation be rectified."

The JADM stated it had received dozens of reports on such harassment from doctors, nurses and emergency services staff.

At least one of the workers complained that they had been called an "infection source" by colleagues, and another said they had been forbidden from going onto the property of the hospital where they work. A third person reported that their boss had demanded that they apologize for being absent from work and causing a serious staff shortage. The boss had not been properly informed that the worker was on a coronavirus response assignment from the health ministry.

Meanwhile, children of some medical staff involved in the response to the virus are being asked to stay home from their kindergartens and day cares.

JADM members examined and treated passengers on the cruise ship Diamond Princess at anchor in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, as well as returnees from Wuhan, or transported them to medical institutions.

"Without their activities, more passengers and crew could have developed serious symptoms and more lives could have been lost," the JADM statement stresses.

"Criticism based on prejudice and bias is never tolerable. We also ask the public to make sure that compensation is paid to medical workers if they develop health problems," the statement continues.

The JADM comprises some 5,000 doctors, nurses, emergency service workers, researchers and organizations involved in disaster medicine.

(Japanese original by Harumi Kimoto, Integrated Digital News Center)

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