TOKYO >> Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the sight of someone coughing in public has become a frequent cause for suspicious stares, altercations and even mistreatment at work, leading to the emergence of what has been dubbed “corohara,” or coronavirus harassment.
Reports are swirling online of fights between strangers resulting from people coughing on trains. Other accounts detail workplace bullying against those who have recently returned from abroad, or even hard-hit Hokkaido, pointing to growing signs of panic.
Reports of workplace harassment have ranged from people being pressured to apologize, to taking days off for coughing due to hay fever or asthma. Others have reportedly been shunned by colleagues simply for living in a neighborhood where new cases have been confirmed.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s labor affairs bureau noted an increase in inquiries related to workplace problems stemming from the coronavirus. It eventually launched a hotline catering exclusively to such complaints, said government official Masayoshi Okuda.
The hotline now receives an average of 30 inquiries each day.
Even hospitals are not immune to hostile behavior toward workers suspected of being infected by COVID-19, according to the Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine.
The group released a statement last month protesting workplace bullying of its members — mostly doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners — who had assisted with the virus outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
“Some of our members, despite having risked their lives to save others on the ship, reported that they had been bullied … after they had returned to their places of work,” said a spokesperson for the group. Some were even “told by nursery schools and kindergartens that their children should be kept at home for a while and pressured by their bosses to apologize for engaging in activities on the ship.”
To make matters worse, the pandemic is coinciding with the annual peak of hay fever, so prevalent it’s often referred to as a national disease.
As a result, some companies, including Nara-based Meishinsha Co., are marketing badges bearing messages such as “I have hay fever” and “not contagious.”
“As patients with hay fever and asthma increasingly become the target of corohara and experience trouble, we wanted to do something to help them,” said Meishinsha official Mayumi Asoda.