COVID-19 and conspiracy theories

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BY: Shabir Ahmad Lone

The COVID-19 pandemic started from Wuhan (China) and created very serious health crises across the globe. Besides the health sector which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the most significant impact has also been on the economy. Some scholars argue that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy may be deeper and more widespread than the impact of great depression of 1930s. Many notable thinkers of international politics are also of the opinion that the global order is changing from West to Asia – being mainly China-centric, because of the direct and indirect consequences of the recent crises.

COVID-19 has also given birth to various conspiracy theories regarding its origin, prevention, treatment and other aspects of the disease. Social media outlets and the state media of some countries are spreading wrong information and presenting the disease in various colours as per their vested interests.

Initially the United States started a blame-game and targeted China for not informing the world regarding the outbreak of the virus. Many political and non-political outfits in US also claimed that virus was a part of the Chinese biological weapons programme based in Wuhan Institute of Virology. But they later on debunked this theory.

The defence ministry of Russia published an article entitled “Coronavirus” in a news outlet ‘Zvezda’ and claimed it as American biological warfare against Russia and China. Iran too joined the blame game when its supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei blamed that US has created a special version of virus for Iranians by using their genetic data.

In India too, the COVID-19 was attached with Tablighi Jamaat by various news channels and many Hindutva elements blamed Muslim for spread of virus in the country. Baseless and false though, but many a positive cases of coronavirus reported from different parts of India were concertedly liked with Tablighi Jamaat and also with the Muslims in general.

The coronavirus pandemic has also been a fertile ground for conspiracy theories on social media too with some linking it with 5G mobile networks.

Medical misinformation was and is still being circulated across various platforms of social media on how to prevent and treat the coronavirus. In India, many people spread rumors alleging that those who eat meat were infected by coronavirus – “no meat, no coronaviris”! Without any scientific reason and proof, some people also claimed that drinking cow urine and applying cow dung on the body can cure COVID-19.

Prime Minister of India also requested the people to organize a ‘Thali and Tali Bhajao’ (clapping and banging plates) programme during the house quarantine atop their balconies without any scientific logic, which was strongly criticized by people in social media.

More three hundred people died in Iran and Turkey after consuming methanol under the false belief that it will protect them from the coronavirus.

In month of February, Regional Emergency Director for WHO said that there is no evidence that COVID-19 was produced in a laboratory as a biological weapon. He also added that it is a class of zoonotic viruses that came from animal kingdom.

In the light of above highlighted speculations regarding the COVID-19, we may suggest that conspiracy theories are based on unreliable mechanisms for interpreting reality and are always result of holding false beliefs and intentionally constructed for political and strategic reasons. Moreover, before blindly accepting anything, we should develop sense of reason, logic and encourage others too to think analytically for dismantling the false narrative of the reality.

The xenophobic sentiments and agenda-driven narratives across the social media are only adding panic and confusion to the already messy circumstances. Government should act against the media outlets which are promoting hatred and disturbing the communal harmony in society through fabricated news by linking COVID-19 with the people of a particular community.

Finally, in present chaos we must adhere to guidelines of World Health Organization and medical fraternity to fight the deadly coronavirus by taking precautionary measures for the protection of life. We must avoid the self-medication and other substances which have no relevance with medicinal sciences. Encouraging people to think analytically can be effective tool to debunk the false descriptions of reality on which conspiracy theories are based.

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