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Updated May 12, 2020

 

Scientology Volunteer Ministers, distribute COVID-19 coronavirus information leaflets to taxi drivers at the Bree taxi rank in Newtown, Johannesburg, on May 7, 2020.
Scientology Volunteer Ministers, distribute COVID-19 coronavirus information leaflets to taxi drivers at the Bree taxi rank in Newtown, Johannesburg

 

Although virtually every African is aware of COVID-19, a May report from the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC) found that one in five Africans believed they were immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. About 54 percent of the respondents also believed the myth that a hot climate would prevent the spread of the virus, and 29 percent were convinced COVID-19 could be contracted from any Chinese person in their country.

Results from this report come at a time when countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa have begun easing restrictions, coinciding with an uptick in cases.

 

There’s also the danger of a boomerang effect.

 

Misinformation (inaccuracies stemming from error) and disinformation (deliberate falsehoods) about the pandemic jeopardize the gains that health authorities have made in limiting the spread of outbreaks. To discourage disinformation, several African governments have enacted regulations that carry harsh penalties, including fines and imprisonment, leading to concerns that this criminalization could threaten press freedom.

There’s also the danger of a boomerang effect: by threatening to punish citizens for sharing information counter to government sources, even accidentally, trust in national and international institutions could weaken. And this could push people to turn to other sources of information and potentially into conspiracy territory, resulting in some of the responses noted by PERC.

 

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