Stigmatisation will not help anyone

Whenever a plane lands at the Paro airport originating from the Middle East, the most common remark is that a coronavirus plane has landed. It may be a casual remark, but it is rude.

Those coming from the Middle East are called importer of virus, bringer of Covid-19 and by many other nasty remarks. This is not good. As a tolerant society, we do not discriminate. One much-admired trait among Bhutanese is the acceptance of many elements that are stigmatised in other countries. Victimizing those affected with the new coronavirus is the latest.

We have not experienced outright discrimination or violence, which some countries are seeing, but with the number of positive cases increasing, there is some uneasiness among the people. However, hurling insults or calling names is not going to help anyone.

Together with the three new positive cases detected on Sunday night, the number of cases has reached 27. Out of this, 20 are Bhutanese who returned from the Middle East. While the number of cases among those coming from the Middle East is huge, we should consider that most Bhutanese returning home from abroad are from the same region.

The government is planning to evacuate those wanting to return from the United States and Canada, where the pandemic has already affected a dozen people, especially in the US. Given the exposure, we could expect a few more cases if Bhutanese from the US return in droves. Will we shift the blame to them?

It is also a Bhutanese trait to find a scapegoat. In the Covid-19 pandemic, we are pointing our fingers to the returnees from the Middle East. Some are even accusing them of leaving the country to make money and return when they are in trouble. Most of the Bhutanese in the Middle East are young people who couldn’t find a job in the country. They left as a part of the government’s initiative to find jobs abroad. They could have helped their family, relatives and the country through remittances when everything was normal.

Covid-19 is a deadly virus. If we ignore the warnings and health messages from the health ministry, it could affect more. But as of today, Covid-19 has not killed anyone. The number of people killed by accidents or alcohol could have been more than the number of positive cases since we first detected the first case. It is not a killer disease. The best way to stay safe is being a careful and following simple routine like washing hands regularly.

Those completing quarantine share that there is uneasiness among colleagues, neighbours and even relatives. That is natural given the concern Covid-19 had created in the society. It is wise to be a little more careful.

What is also important is education. If people of Jomotsangkha knew that a positive result on the rapid test kit was not the final result, the shopkeeper would not have been stigmatised and shunned for more than three weeks.

The understanding of the disease is important. It is not a killer disease. Six people who tested positive have recovered. Five didn’t even require to be put on  ventilators.

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