Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday expressed anguish over instances of stigmatising of COVID-19 patients and denial of dignified last rites to people who died due to the virus.
He said such incidents were totally uncalled for and urged local communities and the society at large to prevent the recurrence of such happenings.
In a Facebook post, Mr Naidu said "the need of the hour is to fight prejudice and nip it in the bud. Otherwise, it can become more toxic than fake news and misinformation".
Urging everybody to treat COVID-19 patients with understanding and empathy, he said "it should be remembered that nobody is totally safe and the invisible virus can infect anybody".
Pointing out that since time immemorial India is known as a land of tolerance and people have been displaying their emphatic nature by coming to the assistance of those in distress, the vice president described as "disturbing" media reports of some people, including relatives, of stigmatising and ostracizing those infected with coronavirus, mainly due to fear of contracting the infection.
Referring to instances where people opposed providing space for last rites to those who died of the virus, he said it was totally unacceptable and goes against the age-old Indian traditions of being in solidarity with bereaved family members.
Observing that a host of factors such as illiteracy, superstitions, fake news and rumours fuel false beliefs among the people, Mr Naidu urged the health authorities and the media to take up special campaigns to promote awareness and educate people on all the facts relating to the coronavirus and its transmission.
"The correct message has to be reiterated, reinforced and widely disseminated to ensure that it creates a positive impact and brings about the desired transformation in behaviour," he said.
Expressing optimism that the dire situation caused by the pandemic can be overcome by striving collectively, he said the first and foremost task is to flatten the curve. "Every citizen has to act responsibly by adhering to the norms like frequent hand washing, wearing masks and maintaining social distance," he emphasised.
He also called for expressing gratitude to farmers, the "unsung Corona warriors", who have been rendering selfless service in ensuring food security.