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Covid-19 myths and conspiracy theories debunked (the world could do with a vaccine against them)

By Rose Mukonyo | April 30th 2020
Down with ignorance: There is absolutely no relation between 5G networks and Covid-19. [Archive, Standard]

Many myths and conspiracy theories have been advanced in a bid to explain the Novel Coronavirus in Africa and more so in Kenya. Here are the top three that are making rounds in Africa in the wake of the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Covid-19 signifies the end times?

Topping the list is the myth that SARS-CoV-2 signifies the end times. This has attracted additional attention because it is coupled with a rumour that a possible vaccine would be infused with a microchip carrying what the Bible refers to as an anti-Christ number without which no one would buy or sell.

This has created great resistance to efforts being made by African scientists working on Covid-19 vaccines.

Myths surrounding the vaccine have been doing rounds on social media in Africa and beyond, specifically targeting research funded by Bill Gates. Conspiracy theory spinners believe the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to use a vaccination program to implant digital microchips that will somehow track and control people.

Vaccination is not a new term for Kenyans. At birth, every Kenyan child is required to get the BCG jab, a mark we proudly bear on our left outer arm as well as the anti-polio vaccine.

This has seen the nation kick out polio. Additionally, after a while, the government rolls out a fresh immunisation schedule of children under five years just to make sure there is no recurrence of this killer disease, to a point of going from door to door just to make sure each child gets the vaccine.

 As the child grows, one has to get several other vaccines, including jabs against tetanus, among others.

On Friday April 24, 2020, Fergus Walsh, the BBC medical correspondent, said that a prototype vaccine against Covid-19 was developed in under three months by the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford.

Sarah Gilbert, a professor of Vaccinology at the Jenner Institute, led the pre-clinical research, and the first human trials have already begun on volunteers in the UK.

4G Google Loon? (balloons) will provide internet coverage to remote parts of the earth but the Coronavirus. [Archive, Standard]

Walsh said Oxford University researchers had also been working on vaccines to combat malaria. Following the clinical trials underway in the UK, he said, one option might be to move to phase II trials into Kenya where the epidemic of the coronavirus will be on the rise.

He said the prototype is shown to produce a strong antibody response, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to protection.

This latest development might remind people of the outrage that greeted a recent suggestion by two French scientists that a vaccine trial should start in Africa, considering the continent’s inadequate health support systems.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus slammed the scientists for what he said were racist remarks that smacked of colonial hangover.

Most Africans, key among them being religious leaders, demanded of their governments not to accept any such trials.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on his press briefing on April 25 stated categorically that no pact had been entered into with the British scientists or any other scientists in the world to have the first human trial done in Kenya.

 But he was, however, careful to point out that Kenyan scientists working at KEMRI and the Kenya Primates Research Centre had been working closely with other researchers around the world in search of a possible vaccine and if there would be any need to conduct such tests in Kenya by the local researchers, the public would be duly notified and advised.

It must also be pointed out that the reason vaccine trials could be more appropriate for an African country, ill-advised comments by French doctors notwithstanding, is that these nations would be at an earlier stage of the epidemic and therefore better able to prove whether or not the trial vaccine offers protection.

These studies do not work if the virus has already been controlled by other measures and is no longer circulating widely.

The Covid-19 is-not-real-myth

Fear about the vaccine is not the only myth circulating in Kenya and elsewhere. Many people believe that Covid-19 is not real and that this is a plan by the Chinese government to rule the world by bringing the global economy to its knees and in doing so bring forth a New World Order.

 This myth has been whispered even in hospital corridors, leading to reluctance in observing laid down strategies, especially the night curfew. Several people have been arrested for drinking in bars, including political leaders.

People also have been arrested trying to cross the county borders after the government cordoned off some counties, including Nairobi and the coastal region counties of Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale, which are considered hotspots, meaning these people do not see the danger in going in and out of these counties.

This measure has been taken by many African countries in a bid to flatten the infection curve on the continent. But sadly, if many people start to believe that Covid-19 is not real, they will stop trusting scientific authorities and governments trying to curb the pandemic. They may even contribute to its spread if they cease obeying social distancing and quarantine measures.

5G aids in the spread of coronavirus, really?

New technology invariably faces great resistance from the ignorant who claim it has adverse health risks. The launch of 5G, the fifth-generation technology standard for cellular networks, is not any different.

The main allegation is that 5G radio frequencies have a damaging health impact; that either these are directly making people sick (i.e. Covid-19 doesn’t exist and people are actually suffering from 5G effects) or the radiation is depressing immune systems and therefore making populations more likely to suffer from the virus.

These myths have taken hold in Africa, especially now that Kenya has launched the 4G Google Loon in a bid to boost its connectivity.

The Google Loon and Telkom Kenya partnership will, among other things, allow pupils from all corners of the country to continue learning through accessing soft copy teaching materials and assignments. Loon’s solution works by beaming Internet connectivity from ground stations to balloon 20 kilometres above.

Signals are then sent across multiple balloons, creating a network of floating cell towers that delivers connectivity directly to a user’s LTE-enabled device below.

President Kenyatta said that these balloons will carry 4G base stations and have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage, an intervention which will enable Kenya to retain her competitive advantage in ICT and innovation in the midst of the current crisis

Before the presidential announcement on this effort, there had been numerous concerns expressed by general citizens about the loons, with some alleging that the 4G had traces of 5G and would, therefore, spread the virus in Kenya.

The origin of this myth is probably the fact that 5G and other radiofrequency communications involve radiation, which for many is a scary word reminiscent of Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the atomic bomb, and cancer.

However, only the upper part of the electromagnetic spectrum, with the shortest-wavelength frequencies (from the edge of UV, through X-rays and gamma radiation) is “ionizing,” meaning the rays can break apart molecular bonds and therefore damage DNA.

Non-ionizing radiation, which includes the rest of the spectrum, from UV through visible light, to infrared, microwave and radio waves, has wavelengths that are too long to strip electrons from atoms. Therefore, they cannot damage living organisms in the same way as X-rays or Gamma radiation.

 In other words, it’s physically impossible for microwaves to cause cancer or other health problems in the same way that gamma rays do. And, Covid-19 is not cancer.

Debunking the myths

Myths and conspiracy theories arise because people want simple explanations for complex and frightening events.  

More importantly, conspiracies have a reassuring function psychologically because they make people feel that someone — even though they may be evil — is in control of events, rather than accepting the harsh reality of disorder and chaos. Most conspiracy theories make the believers feel clever and believe they are the only ones who understand what is really going on.

According to academic communications experts Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, if people are made aware of the flawed reasoning in conspiracy theories and myths, they may become less vulnerable to such.

This ironically is a bit like a vaccine against misinformation.


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