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Blaming coronavirus patients only spreads infections: Japan gov't panel

Hitomi Nakayama, the head of the coronavirus panel concerning prejudice, discrimination and privacy, is seen explaining its report at a press conference on Nov. 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Nobuyuki Shimada)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government should develop a unified approach regarding information disclosure over coronavirus infections to combat discrimination toward people infected with the virus, as blaming the patients will ultimately result in the spread of infections, a government countermeasures subcommittee said in a Nov. 12 report.

    Lawyer Hitomi Nakayama, who chairs the subcommittee on prejudice, discrimination and privacy related to the coronavirus outbreak, sounded the alarm over a propensity to blame people who test positive for the virus. The panel's report states that the act of blaming those who have contracted the virus causes people to refrain from getting tested and undergoing consultations, opening the door to a topsy-turvy situation in which infections actually spread as a result.

    The panel's report cites examples of victimization toward people carrying the virus, and includes suggestions such as limiting the information released on infections to that which can contribute to stopping the virus spreading. It urges the government to develop a unified way of considering on how information is made public.

    From September, the panel heard the opinions of organizations and institutions including hospitals, schools, and the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association. Eight people including doctors then discussed the situation around coronavirus discrimination.

    The range of information published on newly infected people varies based on the prefecture releasing the data. Nakayama said at a press conference following the report's publication, "Announcing more details than necessary could lead to discrimination. There should be broad guidelines drawn up to explain what information should be publicized." The Cabinet Secretariat and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare are expected at a later date to compile and release the government's view on the issue.

    Among the specific examples of discrimination outlined in the report are a case in which at least one medical workers' child was barred from going to school because a nurse at their hospital was infected with the coronavirus, and a case in which pictures of high school students that were part of an infection cluster were uploaded to the internet.

    A survey by the National Governors' Association found that some 80% of Japan's prefectures had established consultation services relating to discrimination and prejudice, and it emerged they had received at least 1,000 consultations.

    With these conditions in mind, the report reads, "Discriminatory words and actions could lead to legal sanctions for defamation and other issues." It emphasizes the importance of making the public aware that anyone could be infected with the virus, and that the specific cause of group infections is difficult to ascertain. It further requests that the government look into including anti-discrimination measures in the basic response guidelines of the special measures law on influenza and new infectious diseases

    (Japanese original by Nobuyuki Shimada and Keigo Kawasaki, City News Department)

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