First she tested positive for Covid-19. Then she started getting death threatsPrasiddhi Shrestha, Nepal’s second case of coronavirus, fought hate speech and death threats after her diagnosis.
When Prasiddhi Shrestha decided to return to Nepal after her college in Paris announced that it was moving classes online due to the Covid-19 outbreak, she felt fine. It was the second week of March, and she had no symptoms of the disease. She thought that her chances of contracting the coronavirus on her way home were relatively low as long as she took precautions. Throughout the trip, she said she put on masks and gloves and always had hand sanitiser on her.
But even after reaching Nepal on March 17, she took no chances. She meticulously abided by self-quarantine measures and spent all her time behind closed doors, Shrestha told the Post. But when her Vietnamese friend, with whom she had travelled until they seperated in Doha, told her that he had tested positive for Covid-19, she decided to take a test. On March 22, Shrestha tested positive and officially became the second Covid-19 case in Nepal.
“Being the second and only active case of Covid-19 in Nepal, I knew that I would be facing scrutiny from the public and media,” said Shrestha.
But she had not anticipated the amount of vitriol that would come her way. As soon as news broke, social media was filled with comments blaming her for bringing the disease to Nepal. There were even death threats. And although her identity hadn’t been made public, she said that she was shocked and saddened.
“There was plenty of spare time while I was in isolation at the hospital, so I was active on social media and I saw all the negative comments towards me,” she said. “I was heartbroken to read such comments.”
Shrestha believes that a lot of the hatred stemmed from the fact that Nepali people had been led to believe that the coronavirus wasn’t a threat to them.
“Prior to my case and the Wuhan case, there weren’t any cases of Covid-19, and many people were under the assumption that the immunity system of Nepalis is strong enough to fight the virus,” said Shrestha. “After I tested positive, I think I created fear and anger among people.”
The stigma against Shrestha was only exacerbated by a front-page report in an English-language daily newspaper that ran with a headline speculating whether she was a “superspreader”, as in someone who unknowingly spreads the disease to a great many people. Although doctors had clearly told the media that Shrestha had been responsible and observed self-quarantine measures, speculation was rife as to how many others Shrestha had spread the disease to. As it turned out, that number was zero. None of her family or friends has since tested positive for Covid-19.
“Most media never bothered to mention that I was responsible and had stayed in self-quarantine even before I tested positive. Instead they made things up, saying I was roaming around, without quarantining myself,” said Shrestha. “I think people were angry towards me simply because the media failed to report accurately what I was doing before I tested positive.”
Shrestha’s experience, which she detailed in a blog post, is emblematic of how quickly people can turn to hate and stigma, even when it concerns a disease. But it also exposes the role of the media in aiding and abetting this kind of behaviour.
“Somehow, somewhere, someone else had decided the narrative to my story,” she wrote on her blog. “They had changed up my facts to fit theirs. I became subject and subjected to the stigmatization that surrounded coronavirus in my country.”
While people and the media were portraying discrimination and stigma against her, Shrestha said that she felt helpless, since she couldn’t even share her side of the story.
“My health was fragile at that time. I was in self isolation. And on top of that, I was getting lots of hate online. At one time, I was starting to self-stigmatise myself as well,” said Shrestha.
Despite all the hate, Shrestha said that the nurses and doctors attending to her helped her to stay positive. She also cautioned everyone against being quick to repeat verified information. The media especially has a role in verifying information before speculating. But most of all, Shrestha said, everyone should refrain from stigmatising Covid-19 patients.
“When the disease is viewed as something shameful, the patient also goes through the feeling of self-stigmatisation,” she said. “Covid-19 is not something to stigmatize and could happen to anyone and any given point, this is something we all have to understand.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 25, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,498,580 people with 346,688 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 138,536 with 4,024 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 54,601 confirmed cases with 1,133 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 603 cases with three deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.