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Japan is seeing a growing number of cases of harassment, bullying and other forms of discrimination targeting local communities affected by the outbreak of the new virus that causes COVID-19 and those involved in dealing with the situation.

The municipal government of Yuasa, Wakayama Prefecture, has received a flurry of inquiries related to gifts given to people who make donations to the town under the national furusato nōzei hometown tax donation program.

The inquiries started to increase after suspicions arose that the virus was being transmitted within a medical institution in the town.

Some who had made donations under the program have declined to accept the gifts of locally produced fruits out of concern about infection.

The Japanese Association for Disaster Medicine claimed in a statement issued on Feb. 22 that some medical workers dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship had suffered mistreatment, such as being called a “germ” or being asked not to take their children to nursery schools. “These are human rights issues, so we strongly protest,” the association said.

Hideaki Furukawa, the 65-year-old principal of Kansai Okura Gakuen junior high and high schools in the city of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, says he feels sad when he remembers what happened to the schools some 10 years ago. In 2009, about 100 of the 1,900 students at the school were found to have been infected with a new type of influenza, leading to a temporary shutdown of the schools. The school was harassed in dozens of phone calls, including one in which the caller demanded that it “get out of this city!”

Photos of the uniforms worn by the students were posted on an internet forum, along with messages that said “don’t go near students wearing the uniforms” and “you’ll get the virus if you approach the schools.”

After a suspension of about two weeks, the schools reopened and allowed students to wear regular clothes instead of their uniforms. A doctor from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases visited to offer the students encouragement, saying “you did nothing wrong.”

Noting that he could not forget the doctor’s words, Furukawa said: “Anyone can be infected. I want people to be calm and wash their hands and take other steps to prevent infection, rather than hurting others with harsh words.”

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