Discrimination against COVID-19 patients, their families, and health care workers is still prominent in Japan.
Students and their parents were slandered online over cluster infections in schools in Saga and Shizuoka prefectures. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has received inquiries from workers not being allowed to return to their jobs after recovering from the coronavirus.
A Japan Medical Association survey conducted from October to December last year found 698 cases of discrimination or harassment against medical workers. Many of the victims were nurses.
People should be reminded once again that discrimination is unacceptable. There have been over 400,000 coronavirus patients across this country; it shows that anyone could be infected even if they take preventative measures.
Discrimination could lead to patients hiding their infections to avoid slander. For medical workers it can also be a source of fatigue, and there is a danger the health care system could be even more overwhelmed as a result.
While Japan's coronavirus vaccinations have begun, and they are expected to be effective, there are people who for various reasons cannot be inoculated. We must ensure that these people also don't face discrimination.
So far, more than 20 local governments have enacted an ordinance prohibiting coronavirus-related discrimination. The Wakayama Prefectural Government has established a regulation to advise people not to slander others in relation to the virus. At least one prefecture is conducting cyber-patrols to request operators delete discriminatory posts. Efforts like this should spread across the country.
Newly implemented revisions to Japan's special measures law over the coronavirus and infectious disease control law include penalties for COVID-19 patients who refuse hospitalization and businesses that decline orders to shorten their operating hours. If punished, patients and businesses could be regarded as criminals, and it could lead to even further discrimination. The amended laws require careful application.
The revised special measures law finally named central and local governments as responsible for preventing discrimination, and it requires authorities to make efforts to comprehend the actual situation as well as improve awareness among the public.
But the amended law does not state that discrimination is prohibited. To send a strong message that discrimination is unacceptable, shouldn't the law clearly state it?
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other politicians' remarks emphasize infection prevention. To eliminate discrimination, leaders in this country must be persistent in spreading messages that pay consideration to coronavirus patients.