Updated: May 23
In some of the most restrictive measures introduced in Europe since the Second World War, the entire country of Italy has been placed under lockdown until 3 April. That means that over 60 million people will have their movements severely restricted for more than three weeks, while all sporting events and public gatherings have been indefinitely postponed. Italian doctors on the frontlines of the worst outbreak in Europe are battling what they describe as a “tsunami that has swept us all”, writes Colin Stevens.
Other European nations are also combatting the virus, with thousands of confirmed cases in France, Germany and Spain. However, the already challenging containment job which European governments face is being further complicated by the myriad myths and conspiracy theories which have surfaced on social media. Instead of searching for miracle cures and regurgitating baseless misinformation, those concerned about the potential of the pandemic should go back to basics, by limiting contact with their fellow humans, wiping down surfaces before and after use and practicing impeccable hygiene.
Viral posts fueling virus
The “tsunami” of infections has been accompanied by an online wave of viral memes and social media posts, offering web users a wide variety of purported cures for the disease. Among other outlandish remedies, there have been posts recommending consumption of colloidal silver, gargling of bleach, snorting of cocaine, spraying chlorine directly onto the skin and consuming vast quantities of garlic.
In some cases, these spurious ideas have reached vast audiences; prominent YouTuber Jordan Slather has advertised the cure-all properties of drinking chlorine dioxide (bleach) to his 200,000-plus followers, while Nigerian music developer Bizzle Osikoya has lauded the corona-busting properties of cocaine to the more than 190,000 people who follow him on Twitter. In the latter case, Osikoya’s post has remained unmoderated for well over a month, despite Twitter’s protestations that it is taking steps to clamp down on such misinformation.
These dubious “cures” are so outrageous that they might be humorous – if they did not have such hard-hitting consequences. The French health minister has even been forced to publicly disavow Osikoya’s attestations for fear that his countrymen might take it too seriously, while in Iran, the situation turned tragic when at least 44 people died from consuming bootleg alcohol, touted as a miracle solution in a country where booze is illegal. Indeed, in one part of the Middle Eastern country, more people have been killed from the fake cure than the coronavirus itself.
Common sense and official counsel
These wildly inaccurate and often unsafe home remedies are just making it harder for Europe to mitigate the outbreak. Rather than spreading panic and misinformation, people should instead follow authorities’ instructions and take logical precautions to slow the virus’s proliferation. The stories of Australians tussling over toilet rolls and Britons exhausting supplies of hand sanitizer and soap might be beyond the pale, but there could be a kernel of common sense in there somewhere.
For example, stocking up on bottled water may not be the worst idea in the world. While bottled water has gotten a bad rap in recent years due to their environmental impact and reports of microplastic fragments finding their way into our drinks, there is an increasing array of alternative kinds of packaging. Evian’s parent company Danone is testing out aluminium cans and glass bottles as part of a €1 billion effort to ensure its packaging is as sustainable as possible, while American firm Just Water—founded by actor Will Smith and his son— has premiered a largely plant-derived bottle with a cap made from sugar cane.
What’s more, bottled water could help limit the spread of the virus in a couple of ways. Although as yet unconfirmed, there is a working theory that COVID-19 could travel through the pipes of a building’s plumbing infrastructure. Given that evidence of the virus has been found in sample fecal matter, and that two Hong Kong residents have both contracted the disease despite living 10 floors apart, drinking from an independent water source may well work against infection.
Having an additional source of water beyond tap water also helps ensure that important hygiene measures can be taken. In the English town of Slough, for example, residents at one tower block have been without running water for days after a faulty pump cut off their supply. Residents have been particularly miffed about the cutoff given that it’s stopped them from washing their hands as frequently as they’re being urged to do amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
Keeping it simple
Being scrupulous about personal hygiene through handwashing is a critical method of slowing the propagation of germs, as is practicing similar sanitation in a public sphere by wiping down doorknobs, work surfaces and metro poles before and after use. Even the simple gesture of greeting a friend or acquaintance has become an area of focus; the official advice is now to opt for an “elbow bump” or “foot tap” in place of a customary hug, kiss or handshake. The difficulty of following that guidance was recently discovered by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, after he instinctively reached for the hand of the man to his left immediately after dispensing the advice to the nation.
But while adjusting these small but not unsubstantial facets of our daily routine might seem onerous, they’re far less intrusive or demanding than wearing a face mask all the time – and infinitely more effective. As for swallowing colloidal silver or snorting Class A substances as a health measure, the risks of doing so are well-documented and the benefits non-existent. To stop the coronavirus becoming an even more complicated question than it already is, it couldn’t be more straightforward: just keep things simple.