Wednesday , 12 August 2020
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The fear of coronavirus has led to the ostracising of people, be it those who are suffering from a common cold, those who have returned home from other states, those with family who have been affected by the virus, etc. NT BUZZ examines this issue

The COVID stigma


On July 3, a woman working as a health staff in Sanquelim tested COVID positive. Her husband, who subsequently took the test, tested negative. However, a vernacular newspaper erroneously carried a story stating that that it was the husband who was tested COVID positive first, before she contracted the virus. The woman was defamed in the article and accused of being irresponsible for going to work despite the husband testing positive. The article further hinted that she could be responsible for the spread of coronavirus in Sanquelim hospital where nine persons were quarantined.

“Though the error was rectified the following day, the false news caused problems for the family and we were dragged into unnecessary talk for being responsible for the spread of the virus,” says the husband. His wife further mentions that people in the village started gossiping about her, all of which was a mental torture for her.

Indeed, the fear of coronavirus has led to many people being quick to pass harsh comments or shun those who have unfortunately contracted the disease or have family who have been affected by it.

Given that the monsoon season is in full swing in the state has only added to stress.

In Margao, Joelin Venora Afonso’s family got a little paranoid when she developed a common cold. “I was asked to wear a mask even at home and not allowed to be in contact with any of my family members and friends,” she says.

In another instance, while shopping in Mapusa, near a shop selling chillies, a girl developed an allergic cough reaction. “A passerby at once turned back to give me a weird ‘Oh My God! Corona’ look,” she says.

And in truth, with coronavirus cases only mounting, people are wary of being in close contact with any person who may have even the slightest indication of suffering from the virus. And this paronia at times leads to stigmatisation of the person concerned.

But, catching a cold or acute coryza is a common illness during the monsoon season, says physician Rajesh Naik. Here one develops a sore throat, nasal itching and a lot of sneezing. “This is followed by lot of rhinorrhea wherein you get nasal mucus. You hardly get fever in this condition and this passes within one week,” he says.

Another slightly more dangerous illness, he says, is influenza. “Last year, we had cases of H1N1, then there are H2NP, H3N5 and these strains go on circulating every year. There is vaccine available for that but the problem is that they too have symptoms like fever, cough and then breathless, which are similar to coronavirus and affects the respiratory tract. So we call that as initially as influenza ill or influenza like illnesses,” he says.

There are various types of influenzas like influenza A, influenza B and parainfluenza, but on an average they produce the same symptoms. “If you get H1NI influenza, chances are that it may attack you more harshly if you have a comorbid condition like heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or any other pre-existing medical condition. These are people whose immunities are compromised and then you can get influenza which is a severe strain,” says Naik.

While the common cold virus or acute coryza mainly attacks the upper respiratory tract, in coronavirus you get lower respiratory tract infection and if your immunity is low this can be fatal. The fatality, says Naik, is around two to three per cent but it can be fatal.

In addition, other diseases that occur in the monsoon include gastroenteritis, enteric fever, Shigella or Salmonella dysentery, hepatitis A, B, C or E. Naik adds that during the pandemic period once somebody develops acute influenza symptoms or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) they must ask that person to go for a COVID test.

Apart from instances of people being wary of those suffering from a common cold or allergy, some Goans returning home from other states, especially those which have seen a spike in COVID cases, have also had to deal with different treatment from neighbours or unnecessary questions. “When I returned from Bengaluru, and after my home quarantine period was over, people used to mistake my tattoo for the home quarantine stamp and ask if I was supposed to be outside. They usually looked at me horrified until I explained that it wasn’t a stamp,” says Cuncolim-based singer Gretchen Baretto.

Valentino Fernandes also had to deal with a similar situation when his ship landed in Goa in mid-May. “At that time there was not much awareness about COVID, so people used to think that whoever comes from abroad are virus carriers. After completing quarantine when I went back to my village in Aldona, people stayed away from my house thinking that I was a virus carrier,” he says.

However, psychologist at Silver Linings: Guidance & Counselling Centre, Margao, Shobhika Jaju says that it’s a shame that as a society we are stigmatising survivors of COVID-19 and those who are home quarantined. “In fact we have reached a stage where anybody who displays regular symptoms of cough/cold is viewed as a coronavirus carrier. Even individuals living within or near containment zones are being denied services,” she adds.

This, fear development, she believes could be attributed to the way the pandemic was being reported when cases first began. “It created a lot of fear in people’s minds; more specifically, the fear of the unknown and a lot of apprehension about the uncertainties associated with the virus,” explains Jaju, adding that people have too many questions about what’s going to happen next. It is basic human tendency, she says, that when we are faced with uncertainties, we tend to engage in activities which we think can put us in control.

Jaju further says that by stigmatising individuals diagnosed with the virus or those who may be at an increased risk of getting infected, and by engaging in the thought pattern of ‘us vs. them’; we are trying to gain back this control and create a false sense of safety around us. “It is understandable that people are confused, anxious, and fearful. But by discriminating against a group of people, it is only contributing to the development of stereotypes which are going to have severe and long lasting mental health impact on the society as a whole,” Jaju adds.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way, she says, adding that as a society, we can fight this stigma together. “We need to understand that if someone catches the virus, it’s not their fault and therefore, it’s important not to discriminate against them or their families. Instead, while maintaining all standards of safety and physical distancing, people can support the families in times of need,” she says. Providing cooked food for the family, delivering groceries on their doorstep, and calling up and checking on their emotional well-being are some of the ways she says to assist someone who is under home quarantine or who is infected with the virus, during these

unprecedented times.

It is also important, she says, that we disseminate the right information and share more about the positive stories of those who have fought the virus successfully. “This will in turn, will provide hope and promote a sense of togetherness,” she says.

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