Over the last week, the patient's identity, private details and rumours of her treatment have been forwarded on messaging and social media apps.

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news Coronavirus Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 16:09

For the family and friends of a 26-year-old COVID-19 patient from Coimbatore, the hardships have doubled over the last week. At a time when their hopes and prayers must be directed towards the quick recovery of the young woman who came back from Spain on March 14, they are forced to battle online harassment and character assassination on social media on a daily basis.

WhatsApp groups and Facebook forums have been abuzz since 26-year-old Laasya* was found positive for the coronavirus on March 19, but it isn’t just concern that is being shared online. The patient's name, address and details of the family are amongst the several messages that have been spread widely, along with false information on her health status and treatment. 

"There has been no respect for the privacy of the family," says Poorani Balendra, a close friend of the patient. "And not just that, they have started to character assassinate her, alleging that she went to crowded areas, to supermarkets and other places when she should have been in quarantine," she adds.

According to her friend, the patient landed in Delhi airport on March 14 and as she had no symptoms, she was allowed to leave. She then caught her flight to Bengaluru from where she took a train to the Coimbatore railway station. Following that she remained at home in self-quarantine until she received a mail from her university that a classmate had tested positive.

"She has voluntarily gotten herself admitted to the hospital after she got the mail," says Poorani. "You don't have to appreciate her for doing her duty but don't spread rumours and hurt the family. People are calling her irresponsible and accusing her of being negligent when she is actually a social conscious person," she adds.

Poorani says that she and other friends have constantly been in touch with the patient and are attempting to lift her spirits. They have told her not to look at Twitter or Facebook or any other platforms carrying any messages about her and her family.

"At a time like this, we need to also take care of her mental health and the family's. It has been a harrowing experience for them," says Poorani. "Harassment like this is going to affect her, her family and others who want to come out and get tested. If they see how people treat you for having the virus, what motivation will they have to self-declare," she asks.

While the patient has said that she went directly from the train station to the government hospital after developing a fever, doctors at the Coimbatore Medical College denied this. Authorities further told TNM that the patient allegedly left the hospital after swabs were taken on March 18, against their advice. They also alleged that they had to convince her father to make her stay, following which she was admitted at the Government ESI Medical College.

"She did not abscond as claimed. Before the test results came, she complained about the quarantine conditions inside the Govt hospital when she and other quarantined people had to share a common bathroom, as the disease could spread," says Poorani.

However, while the hospital's version has been reported by media outlets, the family's version of events has barely seen the light.

"Tomorrow she has to come back from the hospital and live in the same society," says Poorani. "Her private details and rumours about her have spread like wildfire and will stay on the internet forever. Is this fair to anyone?"

*Name changed to protect identity