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Poster by Okinawa group aims to foster kinder attitudes toward people infected with virus

Hiroki Tanabe, right, a member of Yuimask Project, a group that created posters which call for and end to discrimination against novel coronavirus patients, is seen in the Okinawa Prefectural Government building in Naha on Sept. 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Takayasu Endo)

NAHA -- A grassroots group in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa has created a poster that it hopes will help end discrimination against new coronavirus patients by fostering a society in which people feel able to admit they were infected.

    "'I contracted the coronavirus.' A world where we can say this and be thoughtful to one another," reads the poster created by Yuimask Project, a group comprised of business owners, health care workers in the prefecture and others. The group, headed by representative Jun Tamashiro, formed this spring following the spread of the new coronavirus. Okinawa Prefecture was hit with a surge of coronavirus infections from July, which reverberated through educational facilities and medical institutions. A member of the organization said, "We would like this to be an opportunity to create a society where we confront the virus based on accurate information."

    Yuimask Project originally engaged in activities such as using crowdfunded online donations to deliver masks and medical gowns to medical institutions and other places within the prefecture. Although the shortage in medical resources is now resolved, deep-rooted discrimination against patients still remains. This led the members to devise and make the poster with their remaining funds.

    Yuimask Project member Hiroki Tanabe, second from left, is seen handing a sample poster to Reiko Oshiro, head of the Okinawa Prefectural Government's Department of Public Health and Medical Care, in the Okinawa Prefectural Government building in Naha on Sept. 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Takayasu Endo)

    The poster features a member of the group holding a board with aforementioned message, along with illustrations demonstrating how individuals become more reluctant to be examined or tested when discrimination increases, thereby leading to a vicious cycle of further infections. The poster calls for locals to stop themselves and others from spreading false information and rumors, and to end the practice of "treating infected people as like criminals."

    The group printed 6,000 copies of the poster, and will distribute them to major firms in the prefecture that agree with its objectives. On Sept. 17, 500 posters were donated to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, which it will distribute to educational and welfare facilities. Reiko Oshiro, head of the Okinawa Prefectural Government's Department of Public Health and Medical Care, said, "The prefectural government has also implemented an ordinance banning discrimination and defamation of infected individuals and others, but we're thankful that the group has launched this anti-discrimination movement at a grassroots level."

    Hiroki Tanabe, 41, a member of the group and a manager of a consultancy, talked about his experiences of people he knows contracting the virus, and of having been in close contact with an infected individual. He said, "Rather than searching for who the infected people are, we must take a step back and consider our actions. We'd like to aim for a society where if someone says to you, 'I had coronavirus,' you'll be able to follow up with a, 'Were you alright?' and have the matter end on that kind of note."

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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