Catching COVID, recovering from it, and months later still being considered an outcast: This is what happened to Ms. Zuo, a housekeeper struggling to find a job , an increasingly common form of discrimination in China.
When she tested positive while working in the cleaning team of a quarantine center in Shanghai , this woman, who gives only her last name, thought it would just be a bad time to pass.
Four months later, she is struggling to get back to work.
“People are afraid of catching the virus from our contact, so they avoid us,” she sighs.
Difficult to hide the truth during a job interview: “Recruiters check COVID test history going back several months during an interview.”
Like her, other former patients suffer from this discrimination when they are fully recovered, worry defenders of labor rights, stressing that the first victims are migrants from the countryside and young people.
China is the last major economy on the planet to pursue a strict zero-COVID policy, with regular large-scale testing and lockdowns of neighborhoods and even entire cities.
Those who test positive and their contacts are systematically sent to quarantine centres.
Something to feed paranoia: some former COVID patients – but also their families, neighbors and friends – are stricken with a stigma, says Jin Dongyan, professor at the school of biomedical sciences at the University of Hong Kong. Even front-line healthcare workers are viewed with suspicion.
“Ignorance makes some fear that people who have been infected are more likely to be re-infected, but in reality it is the opposite,” he says.
“Like a virus”
Ms. Zuo has embarked on a legal battle against her employer, who has refused to pay her salary since she fell ill and to return her job.
Contacted by AFP , the latter did not want to comment.
He Yuxiu had the same misfortune: this influencer on social networks, who speaks under a pseudonym, was in Ukraine when the war broke out. She returned to China where she started working as a Russian teacher in the northern province of Hebei.
When the school learned that she had COVID in Ukraine, she was returned.
“I never thought I would lose my first job because of this,” she said in a video posted on Weibo, China's Twitter. But “why should we be treated like a virus, when precisely we have defeated it?”
Elsewhere in the country, other cases of discrimination have been reported: last month, announcements Shanghai factories' employment notices clearly specified that anyone who had ever had COVID would not be recruited.
Also in Shanghai, the story of a young woman who lived for several weeks in the toilets of Hongqiao station went viral: recently recovered from COVID, she could neither find a job nor return to live in her village.< /p>
In Foshan (south), a theater had to apologize after the scandal caused by a poster prohibiting entry to those who had one day caught the virus.
“ Little sheep»
In July, Chinese authorities issued a circular prohibiting discrimination against recovered COVID patients, with Premier Li Keqiang calling for tough penalties for violations.
But in Shanghai, even after the announcement by the city of strict anti-discrimination rules, factories have not changed their practices, denounces Wang Tao, an agent who connects factories with migrant workers from the countryside.
“Some give different excuses (for not hiring) when they lack workers, but all those who are rejected have been positive in the past.”
AFP contacted eight companies cited by state media for their discriminatory practices – including iPhone maker Foxconn. None wished to speak.
“It is very hard for workers to protect their rights, because (…) it is difficult to prove that (employers) violate the law of the work,” said Aidan Chau, a researcher at the China Labor Bulletin advocacy group.
“It's important that unions step up. But many small and medium-sized businesses don't.
Those who test positive are nicknamed “the little sheep” on Chinese social media, because in Mandarin, the words “positive” and “sheep” are pronounced the same.
Mrs. Zuo would just like to move on: “It's really complicated for recovered patients to return to a normal life. Wherever we go, our infection history will follow us like a dark cloud.”