Police wearing coronavirus-themed helmets ride horses as they participate in an awareness campaign during a 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on April 2, 2020. Photo: AFP/Noah Seelam

To end attacks against emergency service workers that could undermine the coronavirus-war frontline, India’s Ministry of Health has issued an advisory against Covid-19-related harassment.

Maldivian passengers wear masks after arriving at New Delhi airport from Wuhan. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an advisory to protect people from Covid-19 stigma, harassment. Photo: Indo-Tibetan Border Police / AFP

With Covid-19 casualties increasing, fear increases, and with it irrational actions of the nutcase kind.

“Outbreak of communicable diseases may cause fear and anxiety leading to prejudices against people and communities, social isolation and stigma,” the Health Ministry anti-harassment advisory said. “Such behavior may culminate into increased hostility, chaos and unnecessary social disruptions.”

In a horrific incident on Sunday, sword-wielding cult fanatics chopped off the hand of a police officer in northern India doing his Covid-19-lockdown duty.

A fear psychosis has led to attacks on police and health-care workers, in India, the Philippines, Australia, the US, Britain and other countries – despite brave medical professionals risking and even losing their lives trying to save others.

The majority of people worldwide as in Iran have shown support and gratitude to doctors, nurses and Covid-19 frontline saviors. The April 13 Google doodle is a tribute to grocery-store workers.

But attacks by a few on emergency service providers could cut Covid-19 lifelines needed by all for survival in these difficult times.

“Targeting essential services providers and their families will weaken our fight against Covid-19,” warned the anti-stigma advisory, “and can prove grievously detrimental for the entire country.” And the world.

Change mindset

Individual mindsets need changing. Too much focus on “I,” “my,” “mine” leads to insecurity, fear and anxiety.

Instead, thinking more about the welfare of others reduces stress and increases mental strength. It helps avoid fear, aversion, discrimination.

The Health Ministry advisory aims to prevent discrimination against those working in essential services.

The advisory, the first of its kind against Covid-19-related social stigma, said even those who have recovered from the disease face discrimination. “Further, certain communities and areas are being labeled purely based on false reports floating in social media and elsewhere,” noted the Health Ministry.

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An Asia Times Spread Kindness poster to share. Canva design.

The anti-harassment advisory served reminders:

  • Although Covid-19 is a highly contagious disease, we can protect ourselves (and others) through social distancing, washing hands regularly and following sneezing/coughing etiquettes.
  • Despite precautions, if anybody catches the infection, it is not their fault. The patient and the family need support and cooperation. The condition is curable. Most people recover from it.
  • Doctors, nurses, all health-care professionals are rendering their services tirelessly. Sanitation workers and police selflessly undertake critical roles. They deserve our support, praise and appreciation.

Moral support helps morale, but health-care workers urgently need material support. They need personal protective clothing in their selfless fight to reduce Covid-19 mortality.

Do’s, don’ts

“As responsible citizens, we must observe following do’s and don’ts,” the Covid-19 anti-harassment advisory urged:

  • Appreciate efforts of people providing us with essential services. Be supportive of them and their families.
  • Share only authentic information available on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt of India or the World Health Organization.
  • Cross-check Covid-19 information from reliable sources before forwarding messages on social media.
  • Share positive stories of those who recovered from Covid-19.
  • Avoid spreading fear, panic.
  • Do not target health-care and sanitation workers or police. They are there to help you.

Winning this fight

The respiratory disease Covid-19 has so far caused more than 110,000 deaths worldwide and affected 1.8 million in 204 countries. More than 423,000 people have recovered.

With no Covid-19 vaccine as yet available, the advisory pointed out, anyone can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So it is in everyone’s interest to prevent harassment, as anyone can be on the receiving end at any time.

We are all in this together – not just as a country, but as sharing a beautiful planet as home among 100 billion planets in a small galaxy called the Milky Way.

Winning this fight needs supporting those who fight for us. “To everyone sacrificing so much to save so many,” Google spoke for a grateful world in a one-minute video: “Thank You.”

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly for The Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com and others.