opn coronavirus1-1583229036058
South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Guryong village in Seoul on March 3, 2020. South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared "war" against the coronavirus on March 3, placing all government agencies on a 24-hour emergency footing as the country's total cases -- the largest in the world outside China -- approached 5,000. - - South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE / AFP / YONHAP / - / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE Image Credit: AFP

Our maid announced very seriously that she was told on Whatsapp we should stop eating chicken to save ourselves from the deadly virus.

Soon after that, a relative sent a picture of dead chickens, some of them with their claws straight up in the air, like the opening scene of an apocalyptic movie, and urged me to stop eating the birds, broiled or otherwise, to avoid the fast-spreading coronavirus.

When I told the maid not to believe stuff said on Whatsapp, she looked at me with disbelief. She does not read newspapers, or watch TV news, and her only source of news and entertainment is that which is fed to her by her friends and by the hordes of fake news purveyors on the popular messaging app.

Face masks will not work. They work and catch the cough droplets from an infected person. But it has to be the special medical respiratory N-95 mask, not a surgical mask


No infection via chicken

When I called up my relative and told her that you cannot get infected by eating chicken, I don’t think she believed me. While she respects my expertise as a former newspaperman, she thinks I am way behind times in these days of digital media, and am not as fast a newsperson as her on the smartphone.

The fake news snowballed and in one Indian state the poultry industry offered chicken meals and eggs for free to hundreds of people to show that it is safe for consumption, and politicians were forced to stage an event where they were shown in the media, munching on chicken legs, as if they were Colonel Sanders’ PR managers.

Meanwhile, I hope the virus and its close relatives, are not planning to give us all a double whammy, especially to those who do not wash their hands before eating or who do not wash after using the restroom.

A few days later after the fake bird flu news, there was a report that six judges in the Supreme Court of India had fallen sick with swine flu (H1N1). The judges were advised isolation at home and not to come to the court and infect others.

Karma for justices

Indian courts are known for their tortoise-like slow pace and usually the judges and the plaintiff die of old age as the years pass, while the court case continues.

But recently, the judges were running through cases as if a world cataclysmic event was lurking ahead and were giving justice as if it were truly blind. “The swine flu is most probably karma for the justices,” said my wife.

Even as nations such as China and Iran initially tried to hide how widespread the virus was, in the free world, US President Donald Trump, was calling the pandemic a ‘hoax’, perpetrated by the Democrats.

The US elections are around the corner, and politics is taking precedence over the health of the citizens.

Coronavirus czar

From telling the American people, “We have it in control,” or that the “Summer heat will kill the virus”, Trump has finally decided to designate Vice-President, Mike Pence (“who does not believe in science”), as a sort of a “coronavirus tsar” who will spearhead the administration’s response to the virus. Experts however, believe the US will not be able to handle the pandemic.

Elsewhere, virologists are concerned about the dense population of India, its dodgy health care system and the large number of migrations taking place within the country.

Here are some myths and fake news about coronavirus: 1) It is similar to the seasonal flu (No, It is much more deadly); 2) It will affect only the elderly and children (wrong, even young adults who do not have underlying health conditions are at risk. 3) Face masks will not work. (They work and catch the cough droplets from an infected person. But it has to be the special medical respiratory N-95 mask, not a surgical mask.

— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi

More by the writer