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Coronavirus, Covid-19, quarantine, lockdown, to name a few are surely the words of the year. Originating in a city of China, the virus has crossed the bounds of national boundaries, travelling across the globe, infecting people, economy, and what not. The nations today are fighting not only against an invisible virus. But the whole ocean of fake news, myths, social media messages pose a serious threat to the humankind. World Health Organisation (WHO), even before declaring Coronavirus outbreak a ‘pandemic’, labelled the spread of information a “massive ‘infodemic’- an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for people

to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading ones. Contagion of misinformation regarding Coronavirus has resulted into a situation of panic, anxiety and a whole range of misconceptions regarding the risks of Coronavirus.

This is not the first time a global outbreak is accompanied by misinformation, fake news and myths, but the emergence of new social media platforms, especially WhatsApp, has amplified such messages. There are approximately 1.5 billion users of WhatsApp. Social media now is one of most powerful tools to have influence on people’s opinions and actions and even to manipulate them.

Amidst the massive lockdowns and quarantines, social media has gained much more importance than ever. With Social Distancing, social media has become the platform to connect to family, relatives, colleagues and friends. With the fear of getting infected with Coronavirus through newspapers, people are left with no other option than social media to consume daily news. This is a perfect setting for the flow of misinformation.

An article in the Indian Express newspaper termed India as a mobile- first nation most of the rural India reads the news on smartphones rather than newspapers. The article also mentions that WhatsApp has revolutionised the way people view and share the news and WhatsApp groups have become a popular medium to get news content. And lack of filtering on online platforms neglects the authenticity of the message.

Sloman and Fernbach in their book ‘The Knowledge Illusion’ explain that much of our decision-making is not based on individual rationality but from shared group level narratives. This makes people even more vulnerable in such a time of a global pandemic full of panic and anxiety and especially when there is no complete knowledge about the nature of Coronavirus.

There are numerous stories, messages and videos floating on social media, explaining about the household cures and methods to protect oneself from Coronavirus. This spread of misinformation can lead to misconceptions and panic even to the extent of taking someone’s life. Kiran S, an IPS officer, in an article published in the Indian Express urges people to perform information hygiene. Kiran says, “We are not doing the society any good by an

unassuming click on our phones to forward the conspiracy theories and magic

cures during the times of this pandemic.... The idea (of information hygiene) is to verify and authenticate the news before believing and more so sharing the same.”

It is good to see that governments, social media sites, technology companies are trying to stop the flow of these fake news and myths. WHO has started their own myth busting page – “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters”. Google has created an SOS Alert on COVID-19 for those searching about corona virus in six official UN languages and is expanding in other languages to ensure that the first information public receives is from the WHO website. Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg has promised to

ban ads that promise “cures” for the Covid-19 virus. Amazon has banned more than a million products that claim to prevent or cure the infection from coronavirus. Twitter has set up a “dedicated search prompt” in India with a link to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

The Press Information Bureau releases a daily bulletin at 8 pm every day to inform the Centre’s decisions and developments and progress on the deadly COVID-19. This is done in line with the Supreme Court directive that a daily bulletin system with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic be made active within 24 hours by the government through all media avenues.

Some common myths related to Coronavirus and their facts given by WHO are as follows:

1. COVID-19 virus cannot be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates: This is untrue. WHO says that regardless of climate conditions, maintain social distancing and adopt protective measures in whichever demographic area you live in or travel to or in an area where people have tested positive for COVID-19 and the best way to protect is by frequently washing hands.

2. Cold weather and snow can kill the Novel Corona Virus: WHO says there is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill the new coronavirus or other diseases. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the external temperature or weather.

3. Taking a hot bath prevent Covid-19 Disease: Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can cause burn injuries instead.

4. The Novel Corona Virus can be transmitted through Mosquito bites: According to WHO, to date there has been no information or evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.

5. Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus? WHO says that no, hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

6. Can an ultraviolet disinfection lamp kill the new coronavirus? UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can be harmful and can cause skin irritation.

7. How effective are thermal scanners in detecting people infected with the new Coronavirus? Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature). They cannot detect people who are infected with COVID-19.

8. Can spraying Alcohol or Chlorine all over your body kill the new Coronavirus? No, spraying alcohol or chlorine all over the body can not kill viruses that have already entered the body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes. Both alcohol and chlorine based solutions are used to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.

9. Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new Coronavirus? WHO says that vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts. Although these vaccines are not effective against 2019-nCoV, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.

10. Can regularly rinsing your nose with saline help prevent infection with the new Coronavirus? No. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus. There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.

11. Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new Coronavirus? Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.

12. Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible? People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

13. Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating the new Coronavirus? No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria. The new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for the 2019-nCoV, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

14. Drinking alcohol can cure Covid-19: There is no evidence whatsoever to support this hypothesis. The harmful use of alcohol increases your risk of health problems.

15. You can avoid the virus by drinking warm water every 15 minutes: Ther is no evidence to support these claims. But keeping oneself well hydrated is always better.

16. Only people with symptoms of Covid-19 can spread the disease: Even people with the Covid-19 infection but no symptoms can spread the disease.

17. Pets at home can spread the new coronavirus: There is no evidence that pets such as dogs or cats can be infected with the new Coronavirus. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after getting in contact with pets.

18. Tab Hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid-19: This is untrue. It is advised not to self medicate. It can lead to serious complications.

Michelle Williams, Dean of the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and K Viswanath, professor at the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, in a recent article discuss five ways of combating misinformation: Educating oneself about COVID-19 to be able to dismiss any untrue information; pausing and verifying before sharing or forwarding by tracing the source; maintaining a healthy dose of “scepticism” by not spreading/forwarding messages that provoke fear and intolerance; accepting a level of prevailing uncertainty as researchers are still learning more about the virus and avoid filling the gap with misinformation and to stay informed by checking credible and reliable sources of information. Thus to conclude, the need of the hour is to protect ourselves by curbing the misinformation.


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