Covid info-war creates havoc

From panic-ridden people flocking to astrologers, to Covid-related WhatsApp forwards inciting fear about vaccines, cure and more – here’s how misinformation seems to be rife amid the second wave

On May 5, Prabhjot received a WhatsApp forward from his father. It was labelled as “forwarded many times”, and contained a message inciting fear about vaccines.

The message read: “All vaccinated people will die within 2 years: Nobel Prize Winner Luc Montagnier has confirmed that there is no chance of survival for people who have received any form of the vaccine.” The message, which was obviously fake, used catchy phrases.  It further said, “The scientific genius backed claims of other pre-eminent virologists after studying the constituents of the vaccine. They will all die from antibody dependent enhancement.”

Prabhjot immediately called his father, who had already taken the vaccine, and told him not to panic — adding that this is fake news. “I am fed up with these forwards, I receive these messages on a daily basis in my family Whatsapp group,” he said. “Everyday some relatives would send a message about some cure, related to Covid-19 and I keep asking them not to send unverified claims.”

WhatsApp forwards have been playing a major role in spreading Covid related misinformation Credit- Pixabay

The message containing the claim of french virologist Luc Montagnier was later busted by Alt News. This fabricated message of anti-vacciner, Motagnier, was widely shared. Doctors, contrary to these claims, say vaccines reduce virus transmission.

A few days back, yoga Guru Baba Ramdev made a flurry of bizarre claims slamming allopathic drugs. He said, “More people died because of allopathic treatment than those who died of oxygen shortage or because of Covid-19.” Before he took his statements back, he courted a huge controversy.

Ramdev has a huge following and his statement has public health bearings during a crisis like this. “My uncle is Ramdev Bhakt, he keeps sharing his videos making ridiculous claims, and thus he doesn’t go to allopathic doctors as he thinks Yoga can cure everything,” said Prateek Bhardwaj. With over two millions of Twitter followers, and a TV channel airing his daily yoga show, Baba Ramdev’s bizarre claims reached millions. Union Health minister, Harsh Vardhan, thus wrote a letter to Ramdev demanding withdrawal of his statements.

Quest for astrological solution

 Sanam’s whole family got infected with Covid-19, just after the marriage of his elder brother. A panic ridden family kept thinking that they might have gone against astrological rules. “My mother was more panicked because she thought there were a lot of signs suggesting marriage was not good. She called my maternal uncle,who is an astrologer, for solutions, ” he said.

“Despite his solutions failing, my mother kept believing in him and did what he had told her. She went to our ancestor village and organised a small feast as she thought our ancestors were unhappy.” He further added “that she did so during the Covid crisis”.

Astrology is witnessing a huge surge in the last one year, as panic-ridden people are flocking to astrologers for solutions. Astrological websites like Astrotalks have been getting double the revenue that they used to get.

Rahul Banerjee, a Kolkata-based astrologer, told Patriot about the queries he is receiving. Banerjee is taking calls, twice as much, than he used to get pre- Covid times. “People are scared and want answers right away — when will this pandemic end? I have to counsel some people to not panic. An old man with a phobia of getting paralysed due to Covid called me. I had to explain to him that Covid won’t cause paralysis.”

Effect on Rural India

In tribal belts, the fear from vaccines is huge. People in these villages aren’t allowing anyone to visit their villages, not even frontline workers. Villagers think that vaccines are killing people, not the disease. The fear is stemming from misinformation around disease, resulting in a big vaccine hesitancy.

Not just that, in some villages a quest for a magic solution is also making people do bizarre things. In MP’s tribal regions, tribes like Bhil, Bhilala are curing Covid through herbal malas (garlands). In many villages people are resorting to religious worship, hawans to cure Covid.

Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev made a flurry of bizarre claims slamming allopathic drugs Credit – Getty Images

In a bizarre incident, a 50-year- old man in Tamil Nadu ate raw venomous snake as an antidote to Covid.

However, this second wave of Covid related misinformation is not new. Last year too, a lot of misinformation was created — anti-mask propaganda, and Covid denials found a lot of takers. In 2014,  a lot of misinformation around Ebola was disseminated. Similarly, claims like measle vaccines cause autism, HIV doesn’t cause AIDS were widely shared.

Adam Kucharsky, an epidemiologist thinks that a timely solution for such a crisis is must. He writes in his book, Rules of Contagion, “According to Tokyo-based researchers, a quicker response could have been even more successful. Using mathematical models, they estimated that if the correction had been issued just two hours earlier, the rumour outbreak would have been 25 percent smaller.”

(Cover: Credit – Getty Images)







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