Stigma, shaming and fear: The hidden suffering of coronavirus around the world

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No one should have known Bella Lamilla’s name.

But within hours of her diagnosis as Ecuador’s first coronavirus case, it was circulating on social media along with photos showing the retired schoolteacher unconscious and intubated in a hospital bed. Her large, close-knit family watched in horror as a dual tragedy began to unfold: While Lamilla fought for her life in intensive care, strangers began tearing apart her reputation online.

“Knowing she had it, the old lady didn’t care and went all around,” one person commented on Facebook.

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“It was ugly,” said Pedro Valenzuela, 22, Lamilla’s great-nephew. “It hurt a lot.”

The spreading global pandemic has tested the competing interests of public health and privacy, with thousands of individuals experiencing both physical illness and the less-visible stigma that can come with it. While there are many stories about good deeds and people coming together, the coronavirus is also bringing out another, darker side of some people: Fear, anger, resentment and shaming.

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In India, doctors have reported being evicted by landlords worried they’ll spread coronavirus to other tenants. In the town of St. Michel in Haiti, people stoned an orphanage after a Belgian volunteer was diagnosed.

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