Coronavirus and fake news epidemic

In the last few weeks, Nigerians and other people around the world have lived in great fear following the outbreak of Coronavirus and when a case was confirmed in Nigeria days ago, rumours and distrust started spreading faster than the virus itself. But Nigeria’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak shows that it is better prepared than ever before to deal with potential pandemics.

The Coronavirus outbreak has sparked what the World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling an “infodemic”, as an overwhelming amount of information is being shared on social media and websites, most of it inaccurate which has negative consequences on the health systems, international travels, movements and trades.

The virus, now known as COVID-19, likely originated in bats and seems to have spread to humans at a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the very end of 2019. As of February 28, the outbreak had affected 86,000 people globally. In mainland China there have been 2,673 deaths among 77,658 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei. More than 12,000 people affected in China have already recovered and frightened countless more.

2019-nCoV with a fatality rate of about 2.3 per cent seems to be much less fatal than other coronaviruses from recent decades and also Ebola virus. The disease has an incubation period of at least two weeks, which means, I could be surrounded by the infected virus and I can’t tell a healthy person from an infected one. Then, I could be infected.

According to the WHO, signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, multiple organ failure and even death. However, infected patients can also be asymptomatic, meaning they do not display any symptoms despite having the virus in their systems.

Amid the scramble to contain the epidemic, social media has provided a platform for all types of messages — true or otherwise. And in a world where so-called fake news has become worryingly prevalent, a number of myths surrounding the disease and how to protect against it have surfaced online; like shaving your beards to fend off, eating honey mixed with garlic, consuming cow urine and dung, unfounded recommendations to prevent it by taking vitamin C and avoiding spicy foods.

Several conspiracy theories appear to be another element in the viral growth of Coronavirus. One of the most-popular hoaxes circulating is that the virus is an accidentally leaked Chinese lab-made bioweapon.

In Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, some unscrupulous persons have taken the opportunity to cash in by selling fake hand sanitisers, multiplied costs of sanitisers, face masks now being hoarded and sold at a higher price, fake news spreading.

One just needs to keep calm, be rational and don’t panic. Nigerians have been told that there is no cause for alarm. Necessary steps are in place to prevent further spread of the virus. It’s important to seek out reliable information and act on it.

 

Yusuf Hassan Wada,

Katsina.

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