With no pre-existing health conditions, Zahid, 47 years an Air-Con technician in a hospital originally thought the coronavirus was a conspiracy until he developed symptoms and ended up with Covid-19 positive.
It had started with a dry cough and sore throat, he said, followed a few days later by shortness of breath. There were a pain and fear too. I got through chest and throat infection last year and thought that this virus may kill me easily.
I watched and heard many stories related to Covid-19 commonly called Corona Virus in Pakistan so the fear was already there. There were rumors being spread around that government take people to the quarantine center, and then they inject something into them and then they die.
I watched another video that revealed that the government is taking 3000 dollars to add against Covid-19 patient. In the case of death, it would get 5000 dollars from the donor and foreign agencies.
Social media was loaded with these kinds of stories and I was scared to go to the hospital. However one of my cousins took me to the hospitals and I got tested. A day later, after seeing results, the doctor advised me to quarantine at home, take medicine, and avoid social media and news channels. It helps me a lot and now I am quite fine after 17 days.
Like Zahid, there are several personal stories in which infected people were reluctant to go to the hospital or being tested. False news is spreading at an alarming pace, by virtue of a click or even a simple ‘forward’.
Infodemic – is an Enemy
Information saves lives and misinformation stop, people, to understand and solve their problems. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an ‘’infodemic’’, referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”
WHO explains that infodemics are an excessive amount of information about a problem, which makes it difficult to identify a solution? They can spread misinformation, disinformation, and rumors during a health emergency. Infodemics can hamper an effective public health response and create confusion and distrust among people.
Antonio Guterres Sectary General of the UN said that ‘’Our common enemy is #COVID19, but our enemy is also an “infodemic” of misinformation. He further added that we need to urgently promote facts & science, hope & solidarity over despair & division.
Pakistan detected its first two cases of coronavirus on February 26. Since then the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 304, as of March 19. The governments of Pakistan lockdown the country by closing the borders suspended domestic and international flights, ban all the gatherings including the closure of religious institutions and mosques. During this lockdown phase, people were more dependent upon social media channels to get updates about Corona. Due to people believe in false news and theories, the number of cases triggered during May and June and as of 23rd June, Covid-19 confirmed cases reached 185,000 with 3695 deaths.
The novel coronavirus is spreading faster in Pakistan than almost anywhere else in the world, yet most people do not take the pandemic seriously due to misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the virus. According to Gallup Pakistan, 58% of people still believe that the threat of Coronavirus is being exaggerated. Some leading religious scholars and politicians are also responsible to spread misinformation (not verified by WHO or UN) on national television channels. Their statements created confusion among their followers and a large portion of the population took COVID ‘’a non-serious matter’’. Some religious scholars said that Corona is a curse of God on Non-Muslims as they are enemies of Islam. Another theory accused Bill Gates, Microsoft founder for spreading Covid-19 and stated that he wants to increase his wealth by selling vaccines. Pakistan Famous Brelvi Religious Scholar Kokab Noorani called it a Jews plan to inject a “chip’’ into the body to control the emotions and thinking. Tariq Jameel, Pakistan’s most famous televised Islamic cleric claimed the coronavirus is a sign of God’s wrath over such sins as women dancing and dressing immodestly.
On his televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan compared the coronavirus to an “ordinary flu,” claiming that 97% of infected patients recover without requiring medical attention. The governor of Punjab also suggested drinking hot water will move the virus from your lungs to your stomach, where it would die. Pakistan’s Sindh governor, Imran Ismail called the coronavirus lockdown ‘a fashion symbol.
How to Stop misinformation:
There are many ways to verify the news and facts online. Google also facilitates to verify text, pictures, and videos through different search engines. Mariana who is a BBC disinformation reporter gave some tips to think when you see videos or photo online;
TIP 1: Ask some questions; Does this photo or video look like it is where it says it is?
TIP 2: Think; is this photo or video being used to make you have an emotional response? If it is, check who is sharing it.
TIP 3: Is this video one-sided? Does it seem like it is meant to make you angry at a person or group of people? Individuals and groups share videos like this to spread hatred and distrust
For Covid-19, WHO and the UN are providing verified information through various sources including their websites and social media channels. In Pakistan, the National Institutes of Health, Covid.com.pk, and National Disaster Management Authority provide day to day updates regarding the pandemic. However, the Government needs a progressive communication strategy to deal with misinformation and distrust.