Conspiracies around Covid
Pakistanis could suffer high casualties because we would rather have clergy explain the finer points of pandemic to us
By last count, almost 40,000 people in Pakistan had tested positive for Covid-19. I am sure this number will increase as the lockdown is eased and people move around more freely. Over the weekend, the death toll had exceeded 800 in the country. This itself is a frightening figure.
Our prime minister, however, feels that the numbers we are seeing are lesser than what the predictions were for this timeframe. He claims it was his government’s timely interventions which have resulted in lesser infections and deaths. The medical community says that without adequate testing, we are unable to come up with reliable numbers of how many people are infected. They claim the numbers are much higher.
In this doom and gloom, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day. Much of these conspiracies take the form of opinions and “news”, shared widely on social media platforms. Many friends and relatives believe these stories as the gospel truth. One can only wonder at the level of intelligence and common sense of the average Pakistani after hearing some of them.
To begin with, there are many who believe that the virus itself is a conspiracy. There is no such thing, they insist. They blame the Americans for starting it. Others argue that it is China’s bid for world domination.
A sizeable number of Pakistanis also feel that the answer does not lie in physical distancing but in spiritual closeness. There are those who feel that we are being punished for our sins. While this may be somewhat true given how we have wreaked havoc on the environment, their take is slightly different. I can only wonder what sins they have been indulging in to come to such a conclusion.
To argue their case, a common question asked is whether people know of anyone who has died of Covid-19. With the death rate is around 2 per cent, at this stage there are many who may not know of anyone directly. Also, not all deaths are being properly investigated to check for a link with the virus.
Using this argument, I saw one video clip where a somewhat distinguished Pakistani gentleman insisted that the only deaths that have taken place are because of doctors mishandling cases and not actually because of the virus itself.
This man went on to say that the whole drama has been cooked up for us to become more dependent on vaccines. And these vaccines, he added, will make us more susceptible to other diseases. Such vaccines will also make us impotent. This of course is the clincher. Anything that interferes with male virility cannot be tolerated, no matter what. This is the same line of thought that certain quarters have made against the polio vaccine.
And of course, this is a conspiracy against the Muslim world. Keeping aside the simple fact that most of those infected or dead are not from amongst the faithful, many are convinced that this is again a conspiracy against the Ummah. Pakistanis could possibly end up suffering very high casualties but not because of the reasons they believe. More because we are not willing to listen to the advice of the scientific community and would rather have the clergy explain the finer points of the pandemic to us.
And then there are the cures. What if the president of Madagascar has come up with an untested drink that he insists cures the virus? We have also jumped into the game. Social media is now filled with people of questionable credentials making the most ridiculous claims. Wall chalkings have started appearing as well — a sure sign that this is turning into big business. Many clueless people will now be duped into buying these cures.
For me, however, the most outlandish conspiracy theory comes from a college friend of mine. In our discussion, I patiently debunked all his theories using reason and science. But then he came with the most amazing of them all. That the Sindh government reacted so quickly and so efficiently to the Covid threat is itself proof that this is a larger conspiracy. In his opinion given that the Sindh government is otherwise most inept suggests that there is much more than meets the eye. To this, my friend, I have no answer.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2020.
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