Many Misconceptions About COVID-19 in Africa
By Azeez Disu
Many had thought the spread of COVID-19 won’t reach Africa and the continent would be the safest place but when the first case was recorded in February 2020 it was dawn on the continent that humanity was under serious threat.
As the pandemic spread like hot fire, spreading to countries and claiming lives with record of infected people on the rise, fake news too spread like a fire determined to burn down a village.
Misconception about COVID-19 continued despite Journalists reportage of news of the pandemic in their bid to stem the tide of fake news and fear mongering. Meanwhile, with the situation on ground, it is clear that governments across the continent are faced with the test of tackling the virus as well as misinformation. In this strive, private sector through their businesses partnered with government by donating massively and embarking on sensitization.
However, despite all the effort, according to independent research, many still have some misgivings about the pandemic and it range from it doesn’t exist; is an attempt to reduce population, the virus can’t survive in sunny area like Africa among others.
Surprisingly, some cybercriminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to mislead and defraud unsuspecting victims across the world. One of such fake news is tagged “Argentina Is Doing It”, and is circulated over social media, particularly on WhatsApp, with the aim of causing panic and inducing terror in individuals.
Also in order to lend credibility to the message, the message falsely claims that the Cable News Network (CNN) also reported it. However, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) based in Nigeria has stated that it is fake news and therefore warned recipients of the fake news not to open a video file called ”Argentina Is Doing It” as it will hack their phone in 10 seconds.
Similarly, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said any information on relief funds being shared to individuals, claiming it is from the agency, is false and it urged people to verify information before sharing them.
Despite the sanitization about COVID-19, many still don’t believe that COVID-19 truly exist, they believe it is an attempt to loot the country’s treasury. The news that Former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo made similar statement attest to this notion. On the contrary, Obasanjo’s spokesman had said such statement were untrue and couldn’t have been said by the former president.
In the same vein, some even believe that the virus can’t withstand the heat in Africa and that has been proven wrong with the increase in the numbers of infected people in the continent. Meanwhile, some are of the view that it is the rich man and well travelled man sickness which the poor and middle class shouldn’t be concerned about.
Also, some simply believe African herbs could cure the virus while many others believe it is the punishment from God for disbelievers and corrupt politicians. However, all these have been proven not to be true, the truth is staying safe, following protective guidelines like wearing facemask, using sanitizers, social distancing and getting tested if a person notice symptoms of the virus in order to get the right medical attention and treatment.
It is noteworthy that in Kenya, a blogger was accused of peddling COVID-19 related fake news and was arrested. Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations in a statement said “Elijah Muthui Kitonyo aged 23 years has been arrested in Mwingi for publishing misleading and alarming information on Corona virus,”
It added that “He will be charged for publishing false information that is calculated or results in panic contrary to section 23 of the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act of 2018.”
“We urge members of the public to be responsible and to desist from authoring, publishing or sharing unconfirmed information that may cause panic and anxiety.”
Amazingly, many South Africans were spooked after a widely shared news story at the beginning of the pandemic falsely claimed that Cape Town’s high numbers of COVID-19 infections were caused by foreign tourists.
But Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, said the first cases of COVID-19 were more likely imported by South Africans who had travelled abroad.
In another vein, some Africans are of the view that Chloroquine could cure the virus, even as scientists and medical experts are currently testing some vaccines, experts urged people not to embark on self medication rather seek medical advice and follow World Health Organization (WHO) and other medical experts’ directives.
Also, a viral Facebook post claimed a Saline Solution of warm water and salt or vinegar is a remedy to Coronavirus, but the claim has not been proven by any health institution.
As religious centre were under lock and keys due to government directives which also resulted in the sanction of some centres. A video went viral; the video shows police officers beating worshippers who visited a church in Zimbabwe. However, research showed that the video was old footage from an event in November 2019, in Zimbabwe against the political opposition.
In Egypt for example, misinformation about COVID-19 according to news sources include; false claims about the virus itself, including information on treatments, transmission, and vaccines; false claims about the Egyptian government’s response to the epidemic, including public policies and programs; content that is inaccurately and falsely contextualized; and conspiracy theories and disinformation.
For example, On January 23, Egyptian state-owned newspaper Al-Akhbar published a story suggesting the COVID-19 was a biological weapon created by the United States. The story included quotes by Igor Nikulin, purportedly a former member of the United Nations Commission on Biological Weapons, suggesting that the epidemic was caused by the release of an American biological weapon. This story has been identified as a piece of pro-Kremlin disinformation by the E.U.’s East StratCom Task Force. Nikulin, who has no verifiable association with the United Nations, appeared on a number of pro-Kremlin Russian television programs with this claim, which was widely reported.
Azeez Disu is an African Journalist, is full name is Disu Olawunmi Abdulazeez.