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Jakarta Post

Family moves to forest to avoid stigma after being examined for COVID-19

  • Agustinus Hari

    The Jakarta Post

Manado   /   Fri, April 17, 2020   /   06:46 pm
Family moves to forest to avoid stigma after being examined for COVID-19 Banners put up by residents tell visitors to stay out of the area in Mamuju, West Sulawesi, on Thursday. The ban aims to cut the spread of COVID-19 in the area. (Antara/Akbar Tado)

A family in North Sulawesi’s North Minahasa regency has been living in the local forest for a week out of fear of being stigmatized after being tested for COVID-19.

Agustin Sigarlaki, his wife Elly Lasahaeng and their youngest child, Meilany, found solace out in the wild, away from what they described as being stigmatized by their neighbors in Wineting village.

With a car parked and a tent erected, the family has spent the past week in isolation, away from its neighbors.

Agustin said they had made the decision following a change in attitude among their neighbors after North Minahasa Health Agency personnel had come to their house wearing protective gear to examine them on April 11, a day after their next-door neighbor died from COVID-19.

The agency categorized them as ODP cases, those who have recently traveled to infected regions or come in contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients but do not show any symptoms. That status differs from the PDP status given to people who already show symptoms typical of COVID-19 and are in medical care but whose status needs to be confirmed through a test.

“It is probably because our house is close to a COVID-19 patient’s house that we were declared as ODP,” Agustin told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

According to the Health Ministry’s coronavirus readiness guideline, people who live in places with confirmed COVID-19 are also categorized as ODP.

People who are under general monitoring are told to self-quarantine at home for two weeks.

Agustin said that, ever since they became ODP, people stopped coming to the small grocery store in their house.

Furthermore, he said, when government aid was distributed in the neighborhood, they were the only family that did not get the assistance.

“We feel alienated. We preferred the idea of living in the woods to being left out,” he said.

The death of a neighbor from COVID-19 shocked the family added to their decision to temporarily leave their house.

“When the COVID-19 patient in our village died, I was so scared that my body trembled. That was when we decided to live in the forest,” Agustin said.

The three have lived in two locations in the forest. At first, they lived near a riverbank. However, fearing that the water could rise, they moved to a higher place, still in the river area.

“We’ve been isolating ourselves here [in the forest] for a week. Though it’s cold out here and there are many mosquitos, we feel more relaxed here, because living in our house, we got anxious about the stigma,” said Agustin. (aly)