The Network for Protection against Discrimination appeals to the Government and relevant institutions to take measures to prevent the harassment and violation of the human rights of people who are positive for COVID-19 and people who are suspected of having the virus.
In the past period, a number of articles have appeared in the media, mainly on Internet portals, where pictures, names and lists of citizens who are positive for COVID-19 or who are suspected of being positive have been published. This media content is problematic and harmful in many respects. First, in addition to the health and economic crisis, the Law on Protection of Patients’ Rights guarantees the right to the confidentiality of all patients, which means that health personnel must not disclose any health-related data, including the status for COVID-19, to third parties not involved in the treatment of the patient and in the professional monitoring of the epidemic. The media, including Internet portals, have an obligation to comply with the Law on Personal Data Protection, and the Personal Data Protection Agency should act and sanction them accordingly.
Publishing the personal data of people infected with COVID-19 or the data of those who are suspicious of having the virus, jeopardizes their safety and well-being. In this way, the patients themselves are exposed to public lynching, are declared dangerous to public health, the blame for the infection is sought in them, and they are marked as irresponsible, reckless and dangerous citizens. The accusation of patients and public lynching of individuals creates a stigma around the coronavirus, and the patients themselves are exposed to harassment as a form of discrimination, precisely because of their health status. We remind you that this violates the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination due to health status. The stigma surrounding the coronavirus and the fear of the backlash are key factors in keeping patients away from the health care system and institutions trying to deal with corona pandemics. In other words, if there is a risk that citizens who are positive for coronavirus will be publicly condemned and called out, they are less likely to want to be tested, try to seek help from the health sector, follow the rules and give honest answers for their contacts. For the same reasons, the introduction of measures such as the public disclosure of the names of the infected is counterproductive to efforts for overcoming the crisis.
The personal data of patients with coronavirus and their contacts should be known to health professionals who will take appropriate measures and monitor their compliance. There is no public interest in disclosing the names of patients because that information does not benefit the ordinary citizen, on the contrary, it only causes anger, condemnation and risk of violence and violation of other rights.
If we all respect the measures for social distancing and hygiene, whether we have a positive, negative status or have not done a test for COVID-19, the possibility of getting infected regardless of whether we have been close to a sick person is reduced. Therefore, the attention of the media and the public should be focused on the implementation and observance of the measures, and not on the individuals who are positive of the virus.
The Network for Protection against Discrimination requires the Government and the Agency for Personal Data Protection to actively monitor and ex officio sanction media that publish personal data of patients who are positive for coronavirus or are suspected of being positive. We also appeal to the health professionals not to disclose personal data about the patients and to treat the information about someone’s COVID-19 status confidentially in accordance with the health regulations.
—————————————————10 April 2020