Commentary

The Misinformation Campaign and the COVID Pandemic

By Sauro Dasgupta

In 2020, we were struck with the worst tragedy of the 21st century, a pandemic caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 which claimed the lives of many and the livelihood of others. In an age where the internet has made it, unfortunately, easier to spread any information without fact-checking. It is a sad truth that any health crisis will spawn its pandemic of misinformation and that is exactly what happened, myths and misinformation spread faster and making the situation 10x worse. We saw everything from the virus being called man-made to the vaccines being used to insert chips, the false claims about the pandemic were not less.

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Image Courtesy: The Conversation

As ever, when the word “pandemic” began appearing in headlines, people became fearful — and with fear came misinformation and rumors. When people heard about the virus in news for the first time, their immediate reaction was that their country and they were immune to it.

Then came a point where there were a set of people who truly believed that the virus was “no worse than a cold” and people were panicking for no reason.

The people who believed COVID-19 was a hoax had one thing in common their facts were social media rumors and the other reason they thought that COVID-19 was not real because they don’t personally know anyone who has had COVID-19 so it can’t be that bad. Downplaying the situation made the pandemic even worse and mixed with misinformation, it was a recipe for disaster.

While Influenza (Flu) and Covid-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they belong to entirely different virus families, with Covid-19 caused by a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) whereas flu is caused by influenza viruses. Though the two infections have similar symptoms, including fever, cough and cold, fatigue, and body pains, the major difference between the two is that Covid-19 spreads more easily and causes more serious illnesses.

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Further, there were false rumours that COVID-19 could not come from domestic animals like cats and dogs. But this fact is not even true and social networking sites like WhatsApp, Facebook helped in spreading these rumours which led people to abandon their pets, making animals vulnerable.

World leaders have been guilty of spreading inaccurate information about COVID- 19. In an interview back in April 2020, former US President Donald Trump suggested research into whether coronavirus might be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body. He also appeared to propose irradiating patients’ bodies with UV light. Where we all know that viruses cannot be killed by a disinfectant, and how harmful is a disinfectant for our body. Moreover, UV radiation can cause genomic mutation and cancer-like live threatening health problems. [3]   

For the longest time, people kept believing that they were immune to covid-19 because they were under 40 and refused to follow government guidelines. Though, it is true older adults are more likely to become severely ill if affected but that still doesn’t make the young people immune. COVID-19 can infect any human being at any age. The nature of the virus infects living hosts. From newborn babies to aged people, COVID-19 can infect anyone. 

Where there is a tragedy, there we will find businessmen trying to capitalise off the vulnerable people who will believe everything. Back in June 2020, Baba Ramdev launched ‘ Coronil ‘ claiming it will cure people with the covid-19 and he did end up selling 86 lakh units. Coronil was not even microbiologically tested and the claim that an unverified medicine could cure COVID-19 can cause harmful effects rather curing the actual disease. The efficacy of Patanjali’s Coronil medicine which cures Covid-19 has not been corroborated by any independent medical body as of yet. [4]

Thermal scanners cannot diagnose the coronavirus. Thermal scanners can detect whether someone has a fever — which might result from any number of health issues. Symptoms of COVID-19 can appear 2–14 days after the infection develops. This means that even if a person develops symptoms, they may have a normal temperature for days before a fever begins.

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After a year of trying to find a cure when the vaccine did arrive the misinformation didn’t stop. Many people have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine administered. Many people claimed that the vaccine was used to insert chips in them to track them by the government and social media did nothing to curb the rumors and stop these people from spreading misinformation. [ 5 ] 

Another myth being spread is that after getting the vaccination, there’s no need to wear masks. But the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has mandated preventive measures such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance till the Covid-19 vaccine is administered to all. Moreover, it is not yet known for how long the vaccine-derived immunity will last, underscoring the importance of following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour.

A pandemic is not the right time to let misinformation flourish. As responsible citizens, we should stop people from spreading false rumors and misinformation and educate them and follow the government guidelines.

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(The views & opinions expressed are those of the author)

Author’s Profile

Sauro Dasgupta is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He is interested in reading, writing, public speaking and his writings have been published in many important magazines, journals and newspapers. He can be contacted at dasgupta_sauro@yahoo.co.in.

References

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