Indians blamed foreigners, minority groups and doctors for the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the country during the first wave due to misinformation, rumour and long-held discriminatory beliefs, a study claimed on Thursday.Researchers from the Monash University, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, and the University of Southampton surveyed 2,138 people across 40 localities in Uttar Pradesh on their views about the spread of Covid-19.Ninety-three per cent of the respondents blamed foreigners for the spread of Covid-19, while 66 per cent also blamed the Muslim population. Surprisingly, 34 per cent and 29 per cent of people blamed the healthcare workers and the police, respectively, for failing to contain the virus spread.The social and physical consequences of stigmatisation were found to be severe, as those with symptoms refused to step forward and get tested for fear of public humiliation, the researchers said.Other examples included the refusal of non-Hindu doctors and patients to have a dignified burial; attacks on Muslims during and after religious events; healthcare workers being assaulted and asked to vacate their residences due to fear of virus spread; and incidents of Covid-19 patients leaving self-isolation early.
The findings were published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.As India comes to grips with a devastating second wave, with an average of 350,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths daily, researchers say these incidents during the first wave are happening again."We believe the results are as relevant today, as widespread stigmatisation is visible even during this wave," said Asad Islam, Director of the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability at the Monash Business School."Cases of stigmatisation during the second wave have resulted in doctors being verbally abused and prevented from taking a lift in their own residential building, old parents being abandoned, several patients fleeing medical facilities across the country, and dead bodies being dumped in rivers."Most importantly, we found that stigmatisation of Covid-19 can have negative public health implications as it may lead people to avoid getting tested and respecting prevention measures. This is essential if India is to get on top of this second wave," he added.However, when presented with accurate and reliable information about the virus spread, the Indian people back-pedalled on those negative sentiments and were more likely to get tested and seek medical help, highlighting the importance of health advice from credible sources, the researchers said.