The Tale of a Pandemic
The Covid 19 pandemic has shaken government placed healthcare and epidemic relief systems around the world. Elections and the political dialogue of many nations now heavily relies on how this disease spreads and is contained. This article however, instead of looking into the spread of the disease itself delves into the spread (or lack thereof in some cases) of the information about the probable defining event of the year.
Nations, their organisations, programmes and policies as well as the reaction of the general public to every global event depends on how information about the event spreads and is received. Perceptions change, facts and their validity change and so does the lasting effect of the event. In the case of the Covid 19 disease the spread of its information can be roughly categorised into three different phases: Suppression, Overflow and finally Overload.
The start of the Covid 19 pandemic can be traced back to the month of December in 2019 when China began to witness the first of what would be many cases of mysterious pneumonia which would only later be confirmed to have been a symptom of the Coronavirus. The first indications of this mysterious ailment having the ability to spread in a virile and aggressive form comes from a WeChat message by two Wuhan based doctors who urged their friends and colleagues to stay away from heavily populated areas such as markets.
In this context the Chinese authorities in the month of January “punished” 8 individuals for spreading “rumours” regarding a SARS-esque epidemic. The Wuhan authorities deny any indication of human to human transmission and Wuhan City hosts a holiday banquet for 50,000 attendees. It isn’t until late January that Chinese authorities finally admit that human to human transmission is possible, by this time the number of confirmed cases has grown to 200+.
This is clearly the suppression of information regarding this epidemic. China (similar to their reaction to the SARS epidemic in 2003) for more than a month kept news about the disease under wraps, refusing to take any concrete step which would have raised the alarms.
In this manner, news about the disease remained on the periphery and was characterised by vagueness and lack of data in its content. This meant that somewhere data and information was rising in its levels and was about to burst over the dam walls which then leads us to…
A clearly clueless populace is hungry for answers, the world community is crying out for data and finally international pressure and fears about the spread of the virus leads to Chinese authorities finally letting information flow out of China.
At once the general public is hit by tsunami of grim figures, pessimistic quotes and eye catching sensationalist headlines about the ‘oncoming apocalypse’. Fear seeps into the minds and hearts of the common people, some recall past epidemics like the Spanish Flu and the Black Death. The market shakes and stocks plummet, supermarkets are raided by paranoid customers who hoard sanitizers, soap boxes and most idiotically, toilet paper, to prepare themselves for the collapse of governments and the doom of humanity.
To counter this wave of panic and chaos some media channels and platforms underplay the epidemic and its severe nature. They advocate for restraint and reason but soon tumble down the rabbit hole of inaction and impotence. In their attempt to soothe the public they galvanise part of it to become ignorant and stubborn, refusing to take the epidemic seriously.
Politicians wade into the muck, as politicians often do, hoping for political support and expediency, some attack current governments deeming their actions to be inadequate. Some of these allegations are true, some false, all however, are inconsequential. As the world reels from the blast of information it has just absorbed the darkest parts of the information web start to take notice and pump out a regular stream of content which finally leads us to…
Information is not based on the pedestal of fact but is rather founded by the principle of awareness and bias. In the chaos of the overflow of information; manipulated numbers, conspiracy theories, racial undertones, nationalist and theocratic fervour gain territory in a sweeping manner.
Some nations use the epidemic to highlight their own national strength, prophets, priests and pundits cite the epidemic to either highlight the truth of their religion or to deem it a punishment for sinners and unbelievers. Racial superiority is spouted by some as a natural defence against the disease while others use the epidemic to gather traction for various theories that they have.
Anti-Vaccination propaganda spreads, some claim that the epidemic was created by pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and then sell vaccines. Others believe that China created the disease for biological warfare.
The spread of Covid 19’s information in this manner exposes one key flaw in today’s era of information. As information spreads at a faster and faster pace through constantly diversifying means and platforms it becomes almost impossible for one to sift through correct and incorrect information. This, coupled with the almost innate quality of governments wishing to suppress any news about their failings creates a disastrous scenario, one in which reactionary forces prey upon wayward emotions.
Information manipulation thrives and soars in such a condition, one of the best examples we can take from this situation is how the Chinese authorities strong-armed the international community into renaming the 'Wuhan Virus' into Covid 19 in an attempt to distance China from the epidemic. As we speak the new epicentre of the virus is Europe with the disease creeping itself into the United States of America. Already the United States of America has seen an upsurge of outcry against its employment rules, healthcare facilities and the nature of privatised healthcare. Thus, the virus itself is creating newer tangents of data and information that is drawing the public eye on the crumbling infrastructure of some of the most advanced nations.
Most importantly, this epidemic must be a wake-up call for all information watchdogs because at the very centre of this epidemic lies the absolute failure of all forms of quality control on all forms of media.