Social stigma associated with COVID-19

Last updated

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people can sometimes be labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, or experience loss of status because of real or perceived links with the disease. [1] As a result of such treatment, those who have or are perceived to have the disease, as well as their caregivers, family, friends, and communities, may be subjected to social stigma. [2]


Due to the social stigma, individuals and groups have been subjected to racism and xenophobia and hate crimes, including physical attacks. The groups shown to be most vulnerable to social stigma are Asian people, in particular those of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent or appearance, people who have traveled abroad, people who have recently completed quarantine, healthcare professionals and emergency service workers. It has also been shown that wearing or refusing to wear a mask has become subject to a stigma [2] as well. The existence of such social stigma [2] and their negative impacts have been documented by many organizations, including UNICEF, the WHO, and the CDC. [3] [4] [5] [6]

Reasons for and impact of social stigma

The level of stigma towards those affected with COVID-19 is due to multiple factors. The virus is new, and there are many unknowns surrounding transmission and a possible cure. Many people cannot access tests and [7] drug development for treatment is still in progress. Meanwhile, there is widespread misinformation regarding the disease, under which various online groups and activists have spread conspiracy theories and unproven claims, including: that the virus was created in a laboratory; the virus was "planned"; and that the virus was caused by 5G networks, among other theories. [8] [9] [10]

In this cultural context, the disease itself is an unknown—and, according to many international health experts, people feel fearful when confronted with the unknown. In such circumstances, they may deal with this fear by assigning blame to the "other," [2] which may include groups of people, governments, or institutions. This environment can fuel harmful stereotypes. As a result, social cohesion is undermined, and there may be increased social isolation of impacted groups. With this social isolation, people may be less likely to seek out medical help or services, take necessary precautions, or seek out social services, due to fear of discrimination. This can contribute to a situation in which the virus is more likely to spread, leading to severe health problems and difficulties in controlling disease outbreak. [2] Furthermore, people could also subjected to physical violence [3] and hate crimes.

Addressing social stigma

In order to address social stigma, it is important to build trust in reliable health services and advice, show empathy to the affected individuals and adopting effective practical measures to keep people safe. [2] The following measures are recommended to address social stigma by the UNICEF: [2]

According to United Nations Population Fund, midwives play an essential role in reducing stigma and battling the spreading belief that health facilities are to be avoided. [11]

Related Research Articles

Contact tracing Finding and identifying people in contact with someone with an infectious disease

In public health, contact tracing is the process of identifying persons who may have come into contact with an infected person ("contacts") and subsequent collection of further information about these contacts. By tracing the contacts of infected individuals, testing them for infection, isolating or treating the infected, and tracing their contacts, public health aims to reduce infections in the population. Diseases for which contact tracing is commonly performed include tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable infections like measles, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne infections, Ebola, some serious bacterial infections, and novel virus infections. The goals of contact tracing are:

Globalization, the flow of information, goods, capital, and people across political and geographic boundaries, allows infectious diseases to rapidly spread around the world, while also allowing the alleviation of factors such as hunger and poverty, which are key determinants of global health. The spread of diseases across wide geographic scales has increased through history. Early diseases that spread from Asia to Europe were bubonic plague, influenza of various types, and similar infectious diseases.

Social distancing Infection control technique by keeping a distance from each other

In public health, social distancing, also called physical distancing, is a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions or measures intended to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people and reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other. It usually involves keeping a certain distance from others and avoiding gathering together in large groups.

Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS or serophobia is the prejudice, fear, rejection, and stigmatization of people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Marginalized, at-risk groups such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, intravenous drug users, and sex workers are most vulnerable to facing HIV/AIDS discrimination. The consequences of societal stigma against PLHIV are quite severe, as HIV/AIDS discrimination actively hinders access to HIV/AIDS screening and care around the world. Moreover, these negative stigmas become used against members of the LGBTQ+ community in the form of stereotypes held by physicians.

Novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a provisional name given to coronaviruses of medical significance before a permanent name is decided upon. Although coronaviruses are endemic in humans and infections normally mild, such as the common cold, cross-species transmission has produced some unusually virulent strains which can cause viral pneumonia and in serious cases even acute respiratory distress syndrome and death.

COVID-19 pandemic Ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019

An ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The novel virus was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019; a lockdown in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province failed to contain the outbreak, and it spread to other parts of mainland China and around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Since 2021, variants of the virus have resulted in further waves in several countries, with the Delta, Alpha and Beta variants being the most virulent. As of 2 August 2021, more than 198 million cases have been confirmed, with more than 4.22 million confirmed deaths attributed to COVID-19, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

Social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to quarantine it, including political, cultural, and social implications.

COVID-19 Disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first known case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The disease has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

COVID-19 misinformation False or misleading information about COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in misinformation and conspiracy theories about the scale of the pandemic and the origin, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. False information, including intentional disinformation, has been spread through social media, text messaging, and mass media. False information has been propagated by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent public figures. Multiple countries have passed laws against "fake news", and thousands of people have been arrested for spreading coronavirus disease 2019 misinformation. The spread of COVID-19 misinformation by governments has also been significant.

Human rights issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights violations including censorship, discrimination, arbitrary detention and xenophobia were reported from different parts of the world. Amnesty International has responded that "Human rights violations hinder, rather than facilitate, responses to public health emergencies and undercut their efficiency." The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that stay-at-home responses for slowing the pandemic must not be mandated at the expense of human rights. Broader concerns have been expressed about the effect of COVID-19 containment measures on human rights, democracy and governance.

COVID-19 pandemic in Guinea-Bissau Ongoing COVID-19 viral pandemic in Guinea-Bissau

The COVID-19 pandemic in Guinea-Bissau is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The virus was confirmed to have reached Guinea-Bissau in March 2020.

Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic Aspect of viral outbreak

Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has varied by country, time period and media outlet. News media has simultaneously kept viewers informed about current events related to the pandemic, and contributed to misinformation or fake news.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social media Aspect of viral outbreak

During a time of social distance and limited contact with others, social media became an important place to interact. Social media platforms are meant to connect people and helped the world remain connected, largely increasing usage during the pandemic. Since many people are asked to remain home, they have turned to social media to maintain their relationships and to access entertainment to pass the time.

World Health Organizations response to the COVID-19 pandemic Overview of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is a leading organization involved in the global coordination for mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, within the broader United Nations response to the pandemic caused by the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in late 2019.

Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind Covid-19 and Plandemic: Indoctornation are a 2020 conspiracy theory video and film, respectively, both of which were produced by Mikki Willis and promote misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Both feature Judy Mikovits, a discredited American researcher who has been described as an anti-vaccine activist. The first video, in addition to promoting various conspiracy theories, also features Willis and Mikovits discussing viruses in general and Mikovits herself. Willis produced the first video with a low budget under the name of his production company Elevate Films. Three months after the video's Internet release, the second film Plandemic: Indoctornation, which also includes other people, was released by another distributor.

United Nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic Aspect of pandemic

The United Nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been led by its Secretary-General and can be divided into formal resolutions at the General Assembly and at the Security Council (UNSC), and operations via its specialized agencies and chiefly the World Health Organization in the initial stages, but involving more humanitarian-oriented agencies as the humanitarian impact became clearer, and then economic organizations, like the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization, and the World Bank, as the socioeconomic implications worsened.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on African-American communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed health care disparities with African-Americans experiencing the highest current COVID-19 mortality and morbidity rates in the US—more than twice as high as the rate for white people and Asians, who have the lowest current rates.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities Overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with disabilities

People with disabilities are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and have higher rates of mortality than non-disabled populations. This is especially true for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, individuals who reside in care facilities, and women with disabilities. People with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing mental health issues related to the pandemic, such as feelings of loneliness and isolation. They may be at greater risk of domestic violence and abuse during the pandemic. People with disabilities are more likely to experience unemployment as a result of the pandemic and may require changes to the types of accommodations they require for work. Children with disabilities are experiencing disruptions to their educational programming. Remote learning poses a host of challenges for children with disabilities, including disruptions to physical and occupational therapies and access to assistive technologies.

COVID-19 misinformation by governments Disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic propagated by officials of a government

During the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, many people began to spread false or un-confirmed data and information. This included politicians and other government officials from administrations in several countries. Misinformation about the virus includes its origin, how it spreads, and methods of preventing and curing the disease. Some downplayed the threat of the pandemic, and made false statements about preventative measures, death rates and testing within their own countries. Some have also spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Changing policies also created confusion and contributed to the spread of misinformation. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) originally discouraged use of face masks by the general public in early 2020, advising "If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection," although the WHO later changed their advice to encourage public wearing of face masks.


  1. "Social stigma associated with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)". Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Social Stigma associated with COVID-19" (PDF). UNICEF. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 February 2020. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  4. "Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak" (PDF). World Health Organization. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  5. "Asian-American Leaders Condemn COVID-19 Racism". 13 March 2020. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  6. "COVID-19 (coronavirus): Stop the stigma". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  7. Lopez, German (2020-04-10). "Why America is still failing on coronavirus testing". Vox. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  8. "Social media used to spread, create COVID-19 falsehoods". Harvard Gazette. 2020-05-08. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  9. Ball, Philip; Maxmen, Amy (2020-05-27). "The epic battle against coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy theories". Nature. 581 (7809): 371–374. Bibcode:2020Natur.581..371B. doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-01452-z . PMID   32461658.
  10. Vincent, James (2020-06-03). "Conspiracy theorists say 5G causes novel coronavirus, so now they're harassing and attacking UK telecoms engineers". The Verge. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  11. "COVID-19 Technical Brief for Maternity Services". May 2020. Retrieved 5 June 2020.