If the virus doesn’t get you, the viral message will

By Shonell Thakker

Read: Diary Entry 1

About a month and a half ago, the moment the news about the coronavirus (yes, the virus shares its name with a beer brand. Maybe everyone realized the name was too fun-sounding than something that needed to be taken more seriously) originating from China and then spreading throughout the world. 

The fear of the coronavirus travelled faster than the virus itself and people began preparing for the worst. The best of the scientific and medical brains are in a race against time to find both a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and yet their biggest competition is the ‘WhatsApp university’. 

While the pandemic is busy creating havoc, the ‘infodemic’ is creating a lot of trouble for the mind. In the days of digital manipulation, it is almost impossible to sift factual news from fake news. 

While some filters are in place, not everyone has the ability to verify the veracity of the information before forwarding it. If general fake news wasn’t enough, a bunch of conspiracy theories and ‘true prediction’ videos and articles have begun making the rounds. Most of these also became a part of major debates and discussions.

These are also the ones that unceremoniously drag me into a rabbit hole of more ‘research’. And the more I researched, I formed more opinions and got lesser clarity. News channel debates seemed to be pointless in the absence of clear information or line of action.

My first introduction to the current crisis, ironically, was through a video that seemed like a conspiracy video. It had drama, a few facts, national espionage and propagated the theory that a Communist government was silencing its citizens by any means necessary. 

Yes, I am talking about the Chinese whistleblower physician, Li Wenliang, who had warned his colleagues of the possible outbreak way back in December. For all his troubles, he was harassed by the police and discredited by the government, until he lost his life to the virus. 

But just before his death, he let the cat out of the bag and triggered global outrage against China that no amount of censoring could suppress. This then triggered a chain of events across the world that currently has resulted in almost the entire world being in a lockdown. 

I took this information with a pinch of salt as it was just that, a piece of information that was yet to affect my life. Little did I know how wrong I was.

Almost immediately after this, the second piece of related information that I stumbled upon was the concept of a ‘Super Spreader’. He got exposed while he was in Singapore, travelled to Europe for a skiing expedition and returned to his native country, teh United Kingdom. Almost immediately, news about ‘Patient 31’ in Korea emerged and so did the increasingly troubling situation in Italy. 

Slowly, the virus was going from being a theoretical threat to a very real one as I have some friends in Italy who verified the news for me. I began looking for historical similarities with a fevered frenzy to be able to make sense of the magnitude of the current situation.

Singapore is one of the places that I visit regularly for work and this revelation resulted in quite a few calls and messages from people expressing their concern for me so that felt pettily good. 

My parents went the extra mile to ensure I wasn’t exposed. Funnily enough, the last time I visited the country was six months ago, way before any of this madness had begun. 

Even the story of the origin of the coronavirus is clear as mud. Initial reports talked about bats transmitting it to humans. Apparently, bat meat is a delicacy in China. So as a vegetarian, my first reaction was disgust, the second was to possibly introduce them to more ‘normal’ food, and the third was that at least I am safe since I have my food choices sorted. 

Weren’t bird flu and swine flu combatted with efficiency? My calm was short-lived as the virus spreads through human contact. This meant that I had to curb the enthusiastic hugger in me. 

The second story about its origin was that the coronavirus was ‘proof of China experimenting with bioweapons’ in order to take on the United States and to become the next superpower. This theory also opened up a tirade of conspiracy theories and assumptions that China suppressed the knowledge of the virus for so long because of ulterior motives with an intention to create chaos. 

Once the virus hit the Indian shores, all hell broke loose. Sudden lockdown without an explanation only resulted in more speculation and confusion. 

The prime minister’s address announcing a day’s lockdown and a request to acknowledge everyone who was working tirelessly to combat the disease by applauding them was met with general acceptance, but as always some morons went overboard and flooded the streets with absolute disregard to social distancing guidelines. 

Social media sites and messengers were flooded with a ‘scientific’ explanation of the advantages of the applause and how the world was acknowledging that our prime minister had been named the best and most effective leader by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. 

Some messages also mentioned the astrological effects of the sound created by clapping and ringing bells, etc and the impact of the duration of the sound.

So believable were some of these messages that both my highly educated parents actually narrated a story that our prime minister was aware of the danger that would befall the country well in advance and actually sprayed some powder that could be activated by the sound and that President Trump got to know of it and had come to India to seek assistance. 

The latest activity of lighting lamps apparently was meant to raise the temperature by 9 degrees to ensure the virus gets killed. Heartbreaking tales of migrant workers and daily wage workers add to the helplessness. More conspiracy theories abound.

While initially all this was a matter of perspective, after nearly two weeks of lockdown, any added information is overwhelming, devastating and more confusing to me as I am sure, it is, to many others. 

The only way I see to combat this ‘infodemic’ is with a balanced blend of indifference towards the topic, relying on official information channels and finding constructive ways to empathise with each other during these testing times.

So tell us how you are coping with the #Coronavirus and the lockdown in the Comments section below.

Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the WHO’s resource guides.