There has been a great deal of panic in people’s mind regarding the Coronavirus. Misinformation and rumours surrounding the virus are aplenty. It is very difficult to fight against the pandemic with only medical and economic incentives, if the spread of panic and slander are not controlled.
To understand the characteristics of this situation in Bangladesh, Dr Shahaduzzaman from University of Sussex in England and Dr Sumon Rahman from the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh have jointly conducted a brief study. The study was conducted in collaboration with Bangladesh Health Watch, a civil society platform in Bangladesh.
The study shows the development of this Corona-centric fear and slander in six steps. The first step is creating a false sense of security. While the virus spread in the other countries, there were religious and scientific assumptions among the public which suggested that this is a disease of another country and is a result for all their misdeeds and eating habits. Again, there were assumptions that the Coronavirus cannot survive in hot weather. As a result, people sat unprepared and unhindered by the possible consequences. The second step shows the return of the expatriates, who have been seen avoiding quarantine and, as a result, ended up spreading the virus all over the country. The administrative bodies, then, decided to flag their houses or put up signs in order to refrain them from coming out of their houses. This created an expatriate-centric panic and stigma in the society.
Later, when community transmission started taking place, the panic gradually lost its specific appearance and every person was suspected to be a carrier of the virus. In the meantime, when several large gatherings have been seen to be taking place across the country, it was understood that at the grassroots level, the people were not at all worried about the Coronavirus.
A vicious culture of slander gradually developed across various regions. The Corona patients and health workers are largely being victimized by this, as many have had their homes attacked and evicted. As a result, many are afraid to seek treatment even if they are infected, and health workers are being discouraged. Relatives of the affected have reportedly been fleeing and the patients, too, have been known to avoid isolation. There was also confusion surrounding burial methods, as people were not well informed and most people did not want to tend to the dead bodies. All this is happening out of fear of being socially oppressed. This fear has gradually taken on a wider scale, hampering our fight against the pandemic.
In order to prevent this culture of panic and slander, an integrated planning is needed at national, community, and individual levels. Everyone has to stand by the corona-affected people. With the help of the administration, a team consisting of politicians, social workers, religious leaders, and public administrators has to be formed to prevent defamation and slander. People need to be made aware with appropriate information and instructions in the media. These messages need to be carefully prepared and spread among the public. Free flow of information has to be ensured; at the same time, there must be zero tolerance for rumours. Homeless people are under huge economic and psychological pressure. Only by giving them the right message can we save ourselves from the scourge of panic and slander. The urgency of the situation demands mindfulness, and immediate action.