Fear and loathing in lockdown

As the world tries to come to grips with Covid-19, another evil is at play

Sumayia Asif April 22, 2020
‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ goes the old aphorism, and the devil is hard at work right now as millions self-isolate to thwart Covid-19.

As the world tries to come to grips with a pandemic, another evil is at play; spinning tales and creating hashtags, preying on an already panicking populace.

The coronavirus was designed by humans in a Chinese lab, 5G mobile networks are the cause of novel coronavirus, the US created the coronavirus using genetic data of Iranians,  and the currently viral; Bill gates patented Covid-19, are conspiracy theories running rampant on social media.

The coronavirus is not designed, Reuters soon debunked the theory. 5G did not cause the pandemic and Bill Gates is neither the patent owner of coronavirus nor is he designing microchips to fight the virus.

Recently AFP also quashed the claim that Covid-19 is transmitted through fruits and vegetables. There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through fruits and vegetables; the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) separately clarified.

Research suggests that aversive feelings experienced during a crisis, such as fear, uncertainty and the feeling of being out of control increase the likelihood of perceiving conspiracies.

Climbing death tolls and infection rates are inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern among people. WHO also expects to see a rise in levels of loneliness, depression, alcohol and drug use, self-harm and even suicide as people adjust to life in isolation.

Trust in science and health professionals can be a potent tool in fighting contagion and has been found to encourage people to adhere to recommendations during a health crisis.

Conspiracy theories at a time like this can have severe consequences as distrust of government and media further disillusions people. Moreover, people who believe conspiracy theories about the coronavirus may be less inclined to follow health advice.

The Cholera riots of 1830-31 in Russia were caused by the anti-cholera measures undertaken by the Tsarist government; such as travel restrictions and quarantine. After believing rumours that government officials were deliberately infecting people, agitated crowds attacked police departments, state hospitals, butchering hated officials.

Protests have already begun in parts of the world as thousands took to the streets in the US, defying bans, demonstrating against lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions. Arrests were also made in Karachi after a mob clashed with police officials due to ban on Friday prayer congregations. Many, mislead by the 5G conspiracy, set fire to and vandalized cellphone towers in the UK. Several inmates have died in prison riots across Italy caused by emergency restrictions imposed amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite efforts to dispel the theory, three-in-ten Americans believe the novel coronavirus was created in a lab. Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim a Chinese scientist has been arrested who ‘created’ the coronavirus.

However, no scientist was arrested and experts have refuted claims the virus was created. Fact-checking websites are rigorously exposing fake news and theories on a daily basis.

WHO did not warn against consuming cabbage during the coronavirus outbreak. Funerals for Covid-19 victims are not banned in Pakistan.

Neither Donald Trump nor presidential candidate Joe Biden referred to the novel coronavirus virus pandemic as a time when “people are dying that have never died before.” The phrase was authored by Ernest Hemingway.

The video may have been viewed millions of times but an Orangutan was not washing his hands during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pandemics are a seedbed for conspiracy theories. Ridiculous amount of untruths are sprouting daily, adding to the panic and paranoia of restless people in quarantine.

While health organizations and social media platforms are doing what they can to debunk falsehoods, the onus is on us to practise prudence when consuming news and information regarding coronavirus; to question motives, fact check and look for evidence.

As for the pandemic, it will go when it will go. In the meantime it is worth remembering the words of Albert Camus, first published in 1947.

“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”