In Ecuador, the pandemic and misinformation have progressed hand in hand

En Équateur, la pandémie et la désinformation ont progressé main dans la main

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay | At a time when the pandemic COVID-19 has become out of control in Ecuador, it has led in its wake a trail of false information, ranging from corpses thrown into the sea to the discovery of the dead on the beaches, passing by the proliferation of miracle cures.

The first “fake news” arrived in Latin America several weeks before the virus itself.

Starting on January 25, videos circulating on social networks regarding the supposed origin of the disease: it was the image of a market in live animals, but they had not been turned in Wuhan, China, but 3,000 miles away, in Indonesia.

In the hours that follow, many internet users to denounce the creation and the filing with the supposed patents on the SARS-CoV-2 by “american inventor” and by Bill Gates, is again embroiled with the conspiracy theories.

On 29 February, at the time China had almost 80 000 cases, including 250 deaths, Ecuador, a small andean country of 17.5 million people, had its first patient. A month later, at the end of march, he recorded 2 748 cases, leading to a collapse of health services.

The latest news, Ecuador has recorded more than 39 000 cases of COVID-19, including 3 358 dead (19/100 000). For a long time among the worst-affected countries of the region, it has since been surpassed by Brazil, in particular.

Scenes of terror

“Do not buy the fish! Of the dead of coronavirus are thrown to the sea in Ecuador and Peru”, said the legend of two videos shared dozens of times on social networks. In fact, one showed the dead bodies of migrants on a beach in Libya in 2014 and the other, the transfer in a vessel in a body that has not been thrown into the sea, indicated to the AFP the family of the deceased.

“I am a seller of seafood. The lies and fake videos have affected my sales,” said to AFP Factual, an Ecuadorian who has preferred to keep anonymity.

The speed of propagation of the virus in Ecuador, has resulted in uncertainty on the destination of the corpses. Rumors of mass graves, with pictures of tombs dug in vacant lots, have been shared frantically. However, among those verified by AFP, the Factual, the first one was taken in Mexico in 2018, the other in Ecuador, but unrelated to the pandemic.

“All the attacks were intended to destabilize the government”, said to AFP the services of communication of the presidency of ecuador.

In addition to on Facebook, the government has identified some 25 groups of about 4 000 members each on Télégram and WhatsApp, where the fake “audio” circulate widely. The authorities say that they have “denied more than 300 publications since the month of march,” have contacted Facebook and Google, created a portal of official information about the virus and put in place a robot for the questions on WhatsApp.

Pic of misinformation

“During the health emergency related to the COVID-19, this campaign of misinformation is strengthened”, has denounced the government.

According to the international network of factchecking (IFCN), the organization that is a reference in the field, more than 1 000 contents which are false have been verified in 13 countries in Latin America, especially in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, since January 24.

“The two categories of false information that attract the most attention, concerns the authorities is the misinformation of a political nature, with 230 cases, followed by fake medicines, with 181 cases,” continues the IFCN.

Miracle cures, or deadly

As in other regions, the grandmother’s remedies are supposed to combat the disease have multiplied: drink hot water “every ten minutes”, eat garlic, ginger, honey, do gargles with salt or bicarbonate, including.

The own president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, issued in march a recipe of this type, as Twitter has eliminated.

The health authorities and the experts coincide: these ingredients do not heal, the new coronavirus and protected even fewer from contamination. All caution: ingesting some of these products in large quantities can be harmful, even deadly.

Thus, injection of sea water, as have hundreds of people in Ecuador, can lead to a decompensation, “because the body was going to expel water from the tissues to bring down the salt level in the body”, explained to AFP Juan José Yunis, professor of genetics and immunology from the national university of Colombia.

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