Coronavirus in Croatia Has an Added Symptom: Social Stigma

Total Croatia News

April 2, 2020 —  The coronavirus often causes spikes in body temperature and a prolonged, dry cough. It also leaves some patients with a social stigma that’s hard to shake in the midst of a pandemic.

Complaints of lost jobs, finger-pointing and passive-aggressive condemnation are common, making an already-difficult situation worse, according to various reports.

Nenad Katić, 40, his wife Ivana, 38, and their son and daughter all have tested positive for COVID-19. The Nincevići residents remain in isolation at home, while Katić’s mother is in hospital. They claim they’ve been ostracized by neighbors and blamed for the virus’s rapid spread within the village.

While Katić cannot pinpoint where exactly they were infected, he suspects a mass on March 19 for the feast of St. Joseph, held in violation a prohibition on public gatherings.

“No one speaks about this mass in public, as if it was not even held and as if the church was not nearly full,” Katić told Slobodna Dalmacija. Instead, he says locals have labeled his currently-hospitalized mother Finka as “patient zero.”

Even the local priest, Ante Matesan, reportedly told another news portal that the infection was transmitted by a parishioner who helped clean the church — alluding to Katić’s mother, who volunteered to tidy up along with other parishioners.

The town now has an outsized number of confirmed cases, mostly people who attended the mass.

“Some members of the church congregation were infected. The faithful who were in the church were also in mortal fear, yet only the story of us spread,” Katić told the paper. “We were neither at mass nor did we transmit the coronavirus; we most likely received it from my mother.”

Father Matesan told Slobodna Dalmacija he had a fever lasting over a week, and was awaiting test results. He claims he did not know about the ban on public gatherings and did not wish ill upon the Katić family.

A new scarlet letter

Others have seen news a positive spread almost as quickly as the virus itself.

A list of COVID-19 test results began circulating the island of Murter, the only locale in the country to be in full quarantine, according to ŠibenikIN. Sources told the news site a full list of those tested, along with their results, circulated the small island via text message. It was later confirmed by local police.

ŠibenikIN’s source reportedly found out he had coronavirus via the list — not a medical professional.

“The names were […] sent all over the place and all over the island, possibly even further, which is a violation of the right to privacy and the right to confidentiality of patients’ data,” the source said. “This is something really disturbing from a moral point of view; that the entire village will know before the families of those tested as well as the patients; that it must be known who are ‘the infected’ them in order to stigmatize them.”

Testy Reactions

Some have a hard time getting tested at all. After they do, treating the symptoms becomes just one of a growing list of problems.

Goran Radulović had a random selection of COVID-19 symptoms: the telltale cough and a mild fever barely crossing the 37℃ threshold. He called all the prerequisite numbers: the epidemiologists and Croatia’s coronavirus dedicated number. No luck. 

He went to the Infectious Disease Clinic Dr. Fran Mihaljević, the clinical heart of the nation’s coronavirus response, only to be sent home, he told Vecernji List. He was told his symptoms didn’t merit testing; to call his doctor.

“Ninety-nine percent of people would give up seeking further medical help,” he told the paper. “Thanks to my neighbor, I was able to [get a] test at half past ten in the evening.” The results the next morning came back positive for COVID-19.

Later testing showed his wife and two children were infected as well. The kids are asymptomatic, Radulović said, and his wife has a mild case, with only one feverish day.

Radulović can’t say for sure where he was infected. There were no skiing trips. No family members who were abroad.

The reaction of some neighbors and acquaintances hit as hard as the virus itself. Some asked if they can help. Others called Radulović and his family “irresponsible” and worried they would infect others. One neighbor, he said, even asked for a copy of his positive test results to include in a request for sick leave.

The illness itself, he said, is bad enough. “The cough is deadly, something indescribable.”

As the virus progressed, the asthmatic Radulovic grew worried and called emergency services. He hoped for a lung x-ray at the hospital and perhaps some oxygen. He ended up in a tent in a parking lot and was told to sit on a bench.

“While I was waiting, a hundred people passed by,” he said. “Some were certainly negative, but after their stay there it was very possible to ‘collect’ the virus.”

Doctors measured Radulović’s blood’s oxygen saturation and pulse and told him within an hour that he had no need for hospital treatment, he said. Given Radulović’s asthma, doctor’s suggested he call an ambulance if he began feeling shortness of breath or choking.

All that was bad enough. Then Radulović and his wife were both laid off. She a hairdresser, he a driver for ride-sharing services like Uber and Bolt. Tenants, their landlord has extended their stay — but that’ll only last for so long.

“So if you get sick, no one cares and you’re left alone,” Radulović said. “I do not know what would happen to my wife and me, would anyone in this society care for our children?”


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