Unverified information shared on social media puts a foreign returnee in a fix"I know the authorities are being extra cautious but my name and address were made public on social media. This alone was stressing me out.”
Bidyanand Chaudhary of Belaka Municipality in Udaypur district, who had recently returned from Qatar, received a phone call early on Tuesday morning from an unknown caller who identified himself as an employee of the municipality. The caller asked Chaudhary to immediately come to the municipal office for a medical examination.
As Chaudhary was heading towards the office at around 8am, one of the officials met him half-way and said that he didn't need to visit the office and suggested that he return to his house.
At around 4:30 in the evening, a van from the Rampur Area Police arrived outside his house, followed by an ambulance. "I had no clue as to what was happening," said Chaudhary. "By the time the police and ambulance had arrived there was a big crowd outside my house."
Chaudhary, accompanied by his wife, was then taken to the Dharan-based BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences. He stayed at the hospital for around 24 hours and was discharged on Wednesday.
Chaudhary had to go through the ordeal because of a Facebook post by Durga Kumar Thapa, mayor of Belaka Municipality. Thapa, without verifying the facts, had posted that Chaudhary was one of the passengers on the same Qatar Airways flight (call sign QR 650) as the 19-year-old student who tested positive for Covid-19.
The information provided by the mayor was incorrect as the female student had arrived in Kathmandu by Qatar Airways flight QR 652 on March 17 while Chaudhary had arrived on a different flight on March 18. Thapa had even passed the unverified information to Chief District Officer Dipak Kumar Pahadi and the personal secretary of the chief minister of Province 1.
Thapa's factually incorrect social media post spread like a wildfire as local journalists also attributed Thapa's incorrect post and shared the information online while a sense of fear gripped the locals and Chaudhary's neighbours upon seeing the post.
"These people have unnecessarily harassed me and I was brought to the hospital only because of the rumours," said Chaudhary, "I know the authorities are being extra cautious but my name and address were made public on social media. This alone was stressing me out.”
Dr Mita Rana, a clinical psychologist, says inconsiderate use of information in making someone a victim induces doubts and confusion in the said individual. "This can lead to fear and anxiety disorder as the person becomes traumatised with all the negative attention he gets at a time like this," said Rana.
Chaudhary's brother, who looks after the family's cattle, said that since the rumours on social media caught fire, many known and unknown people have been asking about his brother's whereabouts. "Earlier on Tuesday, a man wearing a mask and a helmet stopped me on my way and asked which places my brother had visited upon returning from Qatar," he said.
Thapa, after learning that his post was factually incorrect, removed it and posted a new status. However, the screengrab of the original post is still making rounds on various social media platforms.
Rana further pointed out that those who have access to information regarding these matters must be responsible while disseminating information. “During these times, everyone must be sensitive and take ethical decisions. They must make sure not to victimise the individual,” said Rana, “Further victimising an individual who is already in acute stress can lead to long-term physical and psychological problems.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 28, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 596,349 people with 27,343 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,373, with 11 deaths. While India has reported 667 confirmed cases with 20 deaths. Nepal has so far reported four cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.