Sunday, 1 November, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic : Debunking Myths, Rumours And Conspiracy Theories


Dr. Rabindra Pandey

Detected first in Wuhan of China via a CT scan last December, the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has now spread in almost all countries of the world. Until now, over 30 million people have been infected with it and around 1 million have succumbed to the infection.
The entire world is currently fighting a battle against the invisible virus. Due to the prevention and control measures adopted by the nations, the fatalities caused by the novel coronavirus isn’t as much as caused by the Spanish Flu. The world, however, is facing a huge crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conspiracy Theory
Along with the spread of novel coronavirus, its psycho-social impact or 'conspiracy theory' has also been spreading all across the globe at the same pace. Many infected patients having breathing difficulties are fighting for their lives while, on the other hand, many people are displaying their foolishness by stating that the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing but a hoax.
"COVID-19 is not a pandemic, it is rather a conspiracy created by the multi-national companies, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are useless, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is swindling us," many are seen spreading these kinds of false information on social media platforms and elsewhere.
Amid the false information floating around, it is vital to understand who is spreading these rumors and why.
To brainwash people, many multi-national companies have issued booklets and pamphlets by using some doctors to publicise that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax. Due to the delusional information, these companies have not provided their workers with masks and sanitisers. No social distancing is maintained in these companies. Even the market representatives are deployed at work by making them believe that COVID-19 is just normal flu.
It is important to understand that the delusional information is only benefitting the multi-national companies.
Certain criteria must be fulfilled to declare an epidemic as a pandemic. Any epidemic must be spread in many countries and continents, a huge population must be affected by it and the disease must be new and rapidly spreading to be declared as a pandemic.
Likewise, the epidemic must have a small to a huge number of fatalities and cause social and economic harm to the nations to be declared as a pandemic. As COVID-19 fulfilled all the criteria, it was declared as a pandemic by the WHO.
Why Is Pandemic Declared?
In today's era, the world is considered a global village. With the development of technology, one can travel from one corner of the globe to the other within some hours. Various airways, waterways, and roadways transportation services have increased human mobility all over the world. In this scenario, every country plays an important role in controlling and preventing the spread of any disease, which is why rapidly spreading epidemics are declared as a pandemic.
Declaration of pandemic also aids the national and international health organisations to adopt preparedness and prevention measures with high alertness.
Once a disease is spread all over the world, the efforts of a single nation will not be enough to contain it. Epidemics can be controlled only if all nations work collectively. Thus, to create public awareness and to ease the prevention and control measures of the nations, pandemics are declared by the international health organisations.

Pandemic and Death
The death toll in many chronic diseases in the world is comparatively higher than the death toll of COVID-19. However, the argument that disease with less fatality rate cannot be a pandemic is unscientific. The death toll is not the major factor to determine pandemic.
For instance, the SARS pandemic that hit China in 2002 had claimed only 774 lives, the MERS pandemic in Saudi Arabia had killed 858 people in 2012, and Ebola in 2014 had killed 11,325 people.
The worldwide COVID-19 death toll, as of now, is around 1 million. The total fatalities from COVID-19 after it ends cannot be ascertained now.
In today's competitive age, every nation is interrelated to each other. A single nation cannot control the entire world by its conspiracies. The multi-national companies are facing a dearth of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many sectors, except the essential supplies and medicine, have been hit hard by the pandemic.
Nations are producing masks and sanitisers on their own, which has further affected the multi-national companies. There is no basis for international organisations or powerful nations to lay the conspiracy of the pandemic.
The news regarding banning the PCR test in Italy is false. Italy is conducting thousands of tests daily. Until now, it has carried out over 10 million tests.
Various multinational companies have made videos stating that corona was a 'bacteria' viral among their employees, which is far away from being true. The laboratories have proved that the SARS-CoV-2 belonged to the same family as SARS and MERS viruses. Had novel coronavirus been bacteria, it would have been cured by antibiotics.
Rumors regarding 54 nations including Burundi halting the PCR tests and other preventive measures issued by the WHO are false and baseless. In many poor African nations like Burundi, the daily PCR test rate is very low. Burundi has carried out over 24,000 PCR tests until now. Likewise, Tanzania has recorded around 500 COVID-19 cases and 21 death cases until now.
Similarly, news stating that Turkmenistan has not recorded any case of COVID-19 and no one wears masks there is bogus. Turkmenistan is a nation with a closed society. According to the FMs of the nation, some doctors and hundreds of people have died in Turkmenistan due to pneumonia. The authorities there have stated that the pneumonia was caused due to the novel coronavirus. Preventive measures such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and cleanliness are being followed strictly there. It is said that in April, Turkmenistan had bought 30,000 test kits and had ordered 40,000 additional kits.
As the COVID-19 has spread in huge amounts in neighbouring countries like Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the virus has spread rapidly in Turkmenistan as well. The neighbouring nations have claimed that Turkmenistan has not revealed the data due to the closed society.
Similarly, although North Korea has not publicised its COVID-19 data for the last one month, a health emergency has been declared there due to the pandemic.
It is also said that Pakistan and Bhutan never went into lockdown. This is also misinformation. The nations had entered into lockdown multiple times to curb the virus spread.

Ignorance And Rumour
The fact that the PCR test conducted on sheep, goat, papaya, and so forth reported positive is also an outcome of ignorance. PCR test is not only conducted to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection, it is conducted on plants, bacteria, fruits, animals, and birds for scientific research. PCR tests on vegetables and fruits aids in knowing their quality.
Such tests include photocopying and magnifying the samples put in the machine. If the bacteria or virus matches the sample put in the machine, the report is concluded to be positive.
Likewise, the rumor stating that Vietnam has banned the use of masks and doesn't have a single case of COVID-19 is 100 per cent wrong. Because 88 per cent of the total population of Vietnam uses masks. Over 10 million PCR tests have been carried out in Vietnam until now but its COVID-19 tally is limited to 1,044 and the death toll is at 34 due to the thorough adoption of all the preventive measures.
Some people have been saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is just normal flu and its death rate is just 0.15 per cent. This is also delusional and false. The COVID-19 death rate had reached 9.12 per cent in Italy and Spain, but it is at 2.3 per cent in these nations. The facts that COVID-19 causes pneumonia, blood clotting, lowering of the oxygen level and it damages the heart, brain, liver, and kidney have been proven right worldwide. Stating that COVID-19 is just a case of seasonal flu is a dangerous attempt to downplay the risks.
Those saying that the coronavirus is a seasonal flu must understand that seasonal flu which occurs a couple of times in a year has not claimed over 10 million lives and countries had not run out of ICUs and ventilators in history due to seasonal cases of flu.
It is also said that 99 per cent of deaths in Italy took place due to other diseases and not COVID-19. This statement is baseless. Italy has officially said that over 35 thousand people succumbed to the novel coronavirus infection there.
Statements that COVID-19 has not caused any deaths, it is because of other diseases that people who test positive are dying is unscientific. COVID-19 attacks our immunity system. About 90 per cent people who have strong immunity system aren't affected much by the coronavirus infection, seven per cent are cured during ICU stay, and the remaining three per cent patients who are suffering from chronic diseases like cancer, damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidney or any other auto-immune diseases have less capacity to fight the virus infection. Coronavirus infection may damage the organs of people with chronic diseases, which leads to their death.
People are being misinformed as it is said that Nepal hasn't recorded a single death solely because of COVID-19, but due to the lockdown 3,000 people committed suicide. According to the Nepal Police, 2,218 suicide cases were recorded during the lockdown period. But suicide cases in the previous years were only 10 per cent less. A sensitive issue like suicide shouldn't be linked with the pandemic.
Stating that we intake carbon-dioxide while wearing masks which has caused many deaths is an epitome of illiteracy. Masks are prepared to facilitate respiration. It is not necessary to wear a mask while staying at home, walking alone, and sleeping but it is important to wear a mask while coming in contact with other people. Doctors and health workers who wear masks continuously for 12-18 hours have not died by merely wearing a mask.
When it comes to the vaccine business, every nation striving to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 has stated that the vaccine would be made available at a reasonable price.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have donated billions of dollars to GAVI (Global Alliance of Vaccines and Immunisation) to provide vaccine to 12 underdeveloped countries for free of cost. Under GAVI, Nepal will also receive the vaccine free of cost or in three dollars. Bill Gates has stated that he would bear the 95 per cent cost of the vaccine.

Ayurvedic Medicines
A piece of news that stated the use of Ayurvedic medicines in the COVID-19 treatment has been banned is a wrong one. China, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Nepal among others have used Ayurvedic medicines in huge amounts for the treatment of the infected patients and some are under clinical trials as well. The western countries are also using various traditional recipes for treatment.
Various people have been unauthorisedly distributing uncertified medicines to defame Ayurvedic treatment. It is important to expand the use of Ayurveda in treatment and scientific research in the days to come. Many nations have been implementing lockdown and prohibitory orders to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has affected many sectors. Lockdown is not the only solution for curbing the pandemic. If relief is provided to the citizens and the public health standards are followed effectively by the public, lockdown will not be necessary.
The government has to consider the alternative of lockdown to prevent the economic and psycho-social impact of lockdown on the citizens. The government must save the citizens from disease and hunger and citizens have to follow all the preventive measures prescribed by the government. We can defeat this pandemic only by coming together to work with solidarity.

(Dr. Pandey is a noted public health expert)

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