Recovered COVID Patients: Can Employers in China Discriminate?

By Alistair Baker-Brian, August 3, 2022

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When China’s biggest citywide lockdown since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was imposed upon Shanghai in early April, a plethora of problems – from food supply to mental health issues – emerged.

As the lockdown began to ease, COVID-19-related discrimination once again reared its ugly head.

According to data from Weibo, the hashtag “Shanghai responds to employment discrimination against recovered COVID-19 patients” (上海回应阳性康复者求职被歧视) has gained around 17.5 million views. The topic peaked at around 11 million views on July 11, more than one month after the city returned to “normal.” 

Addressing people’s concerns, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published a statement on its official website on Monday, August 1. 


The statement regarding discrimination against recovered COVID-19 patients. Screengrab via Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People's Republic of China

The statement begins with the sentence “employment is the foundation of people’s livelihoods,” before acknowledging that there had been cases of discrimination in employment.

The statement confirmed that employers are not permitted to check an individual’s COVID-19 infection history; refusing an individual a job or terminating an individual’s employment based on past COVID-19 infection history are also not permitted, according to the law.

Health code apps and mini-programs – which have become part and parcel of “normal life” in China during the COVID-19 pandemic – show a limited record of nucleic acid test results. 

A serology test for COVID-19 antibodies is the most accurate way to check whether or not someone has previously been infected with COVID-19. 

The issue came to the fore after Shanghai returned to “normal life” at the beginning of June. 

Guanchazhe Wang (观察者网) reported on the distressing story of a former volunteer at one of the city’s temporary COVID-19 isolation centers. The individual – who had recovered from COVID-19 – found themselves discriminated against due to their infection history; they said that while looking for part-time jobs, employers stated that they would not accept anyone with a history of COVID-19 infection, and requested to see a 2-month record of infection history. 

Moreover, other media reports have suggested that in Zhejiang province, online booking services for museums and memorial sites have previously requested visitors to declare if they are either a recovered asymptomatic COVID-19 patient, or a recovered symptomatic COVID-19 patient. 

The same reports also suggest that an unnamed opera house in Guangdong previously refused entry to recovered COVID-19 patients. 

The latest statement from the aforementioned Ministry confirms that such discrimination is illegal. 

Those discriminating in such a way may be wary of “rebound” cases of COVID-19 – a term used to describe cases in which COVID-19 patients test positive following a negative test (note that this is different from re-infection). 

US President Joe Biden is likely the world’s most famous “rebound” case. The President appeared to have recovered from COVID-19, after having tested negative. However, four days after his negative test result, he tested positive again. 

Presidential physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor said that a small number of “rebound” COVID-19 cases occurred in patients who had taken the antiviral pill Paxlovid to treat symptoms, reports CNN.

[Cover image via Pixabay]

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