Isn’t It Amazing That In A Pandemic, Us Humans Are Relying On Fake News?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Coronavirus sprang up in late 2019 and it ended up becoming a pandemic, as recently declared by the World Health Organisation. The novel Coronavirus has already proven its virulent and deadly nature.

Over time, as it is spreading across India, personally, I realised that the real horror associated with the disease is not the virus or its fatal nature, but what came with it, fuelled by both dumb human nature or opportunists.

Whenever there is a disaster, we see both the best of humanity as well as the worst. I have pointed this out in my article about the devastating Kerala floods in 2018.

And, the Coronavirus pandemic, apart from being a global medical crisis, also ended up becoming a test for humanity. The three forms of horror that were witnessed during these challenging times are racism, shortage and fake news.

Racism

The novel Coronavirus has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation. The full form is COrona VIrus Disease and the number 19 is to highlight that the disease was detected in the year 2019. While this name was revealed by the WHO, they specifically pointed out the important reason behind it; to tackle racism and stigma that may come with the association of a disease with its place of origin.

The novel Coronavirus was called the Wuhan virus or Chinese virus as the first outbreak took place in Wuhan province in China, killing thousands in the process. This is also their way of calling out the previous names like the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) which also comes in the category of the Coronavirus.

The sad part is that the damage was already done because Asians around the world starting facing racism. Several Asian tourists faced bullying in Europe. An Asian doctor who lived all her life in Australia revealed that her patient refused to shake hands with her because “Coronavirus kills.”

People from Northeast India have faced vile forms of racism across India and the Coronavirus outbreak served as salt in the wound. Northeastern Indians reported several incidents of bullying. Notably, the incident involving two female students who were attacked by six men during Holi where balloons were thrown at their private parts while shouting “Coronavirus!” at them.

In the US, Asian Americans saw a decline in their businesses and more discrimination amidst the fears. Judging the number of cases and the places, it is clear that the virus knows no race.

Fake News

Most of the discrimination and bullying are indirectly fed by the false news that comes along with the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of today, there are 130,180 infected people and as many as 4,755 people have died. Most of the infection and related panic can be avoided if fake news is curbed and by taking the right information to the right person.

For example, the whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang was detained and forced to sign a declaration when he first reported a ‘SARS-like disease.’ Afterward, the disease spread to more people, leading to a major outbreak that took many lives, including his own.

If the authorities had taken Dr Li’s words into account then a lot of damage could have been prevented.

That being said, sometimes a lot of people like Dr Li are not taken seriously due to this phenomenon called fake news. The boy who yelled “wolf!” faced that consequence. The media played its role in terms of exaggeration and further inducing panic.

What’s worse is that certain news will lead to worse consequences. The debates regarding the COVID-19’s status as a biological weapon continues, most of the accusations come from far-right leaders including commentator John Bernstein who said that the virus has been created to bring down the Trump administration.

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There were articles after articles that presented various conspiracy theories without evidence to further escalate this.
In Kerala, there were reports about a person escaping isolation and quarantine. Several media platforms reported that he was COVID-19 positive. Others suggested that he was only a primary contact of an infected individual whose test results are yet to come.

And, it is probably no coincidence that the Kerala government announced a partial shutdown around the same time this news came out.

At this time point of time, it is imperative to curb fake news and completely focus on the information provided by legitimate sources like the WHO or CDC.

There was also painfully hilarious news about the military lock down, lemon juice efficiency, and newly discovered vaccines.

The last thing social media platforms should share is conspiracy theories without evidence that may feed the ongoing racism towards Asians. The majority of the fears related to Coronavirus in India were induced by the spreading of misinformation thanks to WhatsApp marketing.

Fake news is as virulent and malicious as a virus.

Shortages

Thanks to the spreading of misinformation and the resulting panic, people resort to the best way in which they can protect themselves from the infection. I live in Kochi, Kerala, India.

Many department stores, medical stores, and shops have run out of hand sanitisers and face masks due to the COVID-19 epidemic.Worldwide, shortages of medical supplies also led to theft.

This is an alarming situation because it means that people who actually need might find it difficult to get resources, especially the infected people and authorities who treat them.

A young woman wears a face mask while out in public. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna via Getty Images)

Medical experts claimed that technically there is no point in wearing face masks as it is effective only to a certain degree. What it does is prevent the virus from entering through nose or mouth. If you touch a surface with Coronavirus on them and scratch your eyes while wearing a face mask then the joke is on you right there and then!

Also, due to the tendency for people to reuse the mask and leave it on surfaces, the chance of infection is higher. UK’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said, “In fact, you can actually trap the virus in the mask and start breathing it in.”

The same thing applies when it comes to hand sanitisers. The people who desperately need it are medical professionals and others who work for the mass amidst the outbreak.

What Should Be Done?

1. Don’t spread fake news. Refer only legitimate sources for information like CDC, WHO, etc.

2. Wash hands properly with soap for 20 seconds. This is as effective as a hand sanitiser. You should wash your hands after going to public places, travelling in public transport, if you touch public areas or structures like rails, in between work if you are dealing with strangers, etc.

3. Avoid crowded places.

4. Stay away from people who show symptoms like cough, cold, and fever. But, don’t be insensitive, encourage them to go to the doctor and get treatment. More than anything else, discourage and call out racism.

5. Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose unless you have washed your hands. Remember, you can still touch your eyes by accident while wearing a face mask.

6. Be aware of the surroundings and news regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Keep your eyes open for people who show symptoms, especially if they come from places affected by the disease. If someone in your family has that then follow the government’s protocol and report.

The authorities (of different states in India) have taken radical decisions like penalizing those who don’t report COVID and those who refuse treatment.

7. Wear a face mask only if it is absolutely essential; if you are going to public places etc.

8. If you are living in a COVID-19 hotspot, then avoid non-essential travels altogether until the situation is stable.

So, take care and be alert. This phase will pass soon with the help of vigilance and precaution by people. Help tackle the viruses in forms of racism and stigmatisation that still need more efforts to be eradicated.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Jacob Snippel for the US Navy via Military Health System/Official Website; Getty Images.
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