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How denial and conspiracy theories fuel coronavirus crisis in Pakistan | DW | 23.06.2020

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How denial and conspiracy theories fuel coronavirus crisis in Pakistan | DW | 23.06.2020

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As of June 23, there were around 187,000 cases of the coronavirus with over 3,700 deaths in Pakistan. The number of infections is expected to reach 300,000 by the end of the month and over a million by late July or early August.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned mid-June that the average infection rate in Pakistan has risen to 22.6%. Within a month, the country’s daily infection count increased to an average of around 6,000 from 1,000.

Read more: Pakistan risking disaster with its contentious coronavirus strategy

Studies carried out by the Imperial College London and the University of Washington suggest that the actual number of cases in Pakistan could be anywhere between 3 to 10 times higher than those registered by the government.

Despite the virus spreading in Pakistan at an alarming rate, the government has relaxed lockdowns across the country and has decided to reopen the tourism industry.

In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan compared the coronavirus to an “ordinary flu,” claiming that 97% of infected patients recover without requiring medical attention. In a televised address to the nation, Khan said that Pakistan could not afford a nationwide lockdown as one fourth of its population lives below the poverty line. Instead, his government has lifted all public restrictions in an apparent attempt to revive the economy.

Read more: Coronavirus: Is Pakistan taking COVID-19 too lightly?

Analysts warn that the government’s denial and mismanagement of the virus has worsened the outbreak in a country with an already weak and overworked healthcare system.

Pakistan’s coronavirus timeline

The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Pakistan on February 26, 2020. The country was put under a partial lockdown from April 1, which lasted until May 9.

Earlier in March, when coronavirus cases in Pakistan were relatively lower, the federal government allowed Shiite pilgrims from Iran to return to the country through Baluchistan province.

The pilgrims were not properly quarantined, which resulted in a spike of infections. Also, the government allowed thousands of Sunni worshippers to go ahead with the “Tablighi Jamaat” congregation in Pubjab province. Many of the new COVID-19 cases have emerged from that mass gathering.

Despite resistance from local provincial governments and opposition parties, Khan’s government then gave into pressure by trade unions and religious groups to lift coronavirus restrictions to celebrate the Eid festival on March 24. Khan said it was up to the public to take precautions. But when the public failed to do so, Khan said it was their own fault.

Read more: Eid festivities raise coronavirus surge fears in South Asia

Politics and religious conservatism fuel virus

A recent survey by the Islamabad-based research organization, Gallup Pakistan, showed that 55% of Pakistanis believe that the threat of the coronavirus is exaggerated.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Ipsos, a global market research and public opinion specialist, revealed that only 3% of Pakistanis have no misconceptions about the coronavirus, how it spreads and methods for its prevention and treatment. The poll also showed that a third of respondents believe in conspiracy theories related to the pandemic.

Experts blame the Pakistani government for not debunking misinformation and unsupported claims. Government inaction and a general lack of trust in the government and authorities have also made people more open to conspiracy theories. The situation is also exacerbated by the spread of such theories via Pakistani media and various social media platforms.

Read more:  COVID-19 in Pakistan: Why the government and doctors are at odds

Political analyst and journalist Owais Tohid explained that conspiracy theories have always been widespread in Pakistan and that from the current health crisis to the war on terror many Pakistanis have traditionally taken refuge in denial. According to Tohid, politics and religious conservatism have exacerbated the spread of myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the disease, pushing scientific and medical facts under the rug.

“The spread of the virus is fuelled by politics and religion,” Tohid told DW. “From the theory that the disease is more harmful in the West than the East, and that it kills white people more than coloured and African American people, and that people in Pakistan have immunity, the list goes on and on,” he said. “People in Pakistan believe in conspiracy theories, thrive on them and remain in denial till the reality hits them right in their face.”

Meanwhile, civil society activists say that Pakistani authorities continue to appease Islamists even when the country is facing a worsening public health crisis.

Coronavirus as ‘God’s punishment’

Professor of sociology and vice chancellor of the University of Okara, Muhammad Zakria Zakar, told DW that many Pakistanis deny the crisis because scientific thought and training has not yet fully developed in the country.

“We don’t focus on scientific facts and reasoning in our curriculum,” Zakar said, referring to Pakistan’s education system.

Amongst conservative individuals, disease is often perceived as God’s punishment for wrongdoing. Seeking help from spiritual or traditional healers is both a popular and more accessible alternative to receiving medical treatment.

“If someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the person will be stigmatized as someone who has sinned and is thus facing the wrath of the God,” said Zakar.

According to the sociologist, superstition and folklore are embedded in traditional Pakistani culture, making it easier for many people to be more receptive to myths and conspiracy theories.

A combination of religious conservativism, illiteracy and a lack of access to resources have helped fuel conspiracy theories. According to Zakar, although uneducated individuals from low to middle income backgrounds are more likely to engage in traditional forms of healing and be more receptive to conspiracy theories surrounding the virus, literate individuals from middle to upper income backgrounds have also been known to engage in such behavior.

Politically motivated experts or medical doctors, or influential figures inspired by religious dogmas, have been known to advocate conspiracy theories surrounding the pandemic. Under the guise of “expertise, their theories are often welcomed. In April, Tariq Jameel, a popular Islamic preacher, claimed that the coronavirus is a sign of God’s wrath over sins such as women dancing and dressing immodestly.

Read more: Child laborers caught between coronavirus and economic hardship

Biggest crisis yet to come

The WHO has recommended that Pakistan impose intermittent lockdowns lasting two weeks to contain the outbreak. Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition parties and doctors’ associations are demanding a complete lockdown.

Zafar Mirza, special assistant to the prime minister for health, said such recommendations are not mandatory and that the government must consider both economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

Currently, the federal government is trying to control the spread of virus by imposing “smart” lockdowns in COVID-19 hotspots.

However, Tohid warned that millions of Pakistanis are threatened with job losses amid the pandemic. “So, in the coming months, Pakistan will probably confront its worst crisis ever.”



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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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