As the global death toll and range of the corona virus continues to increase, so does it’s media coverage. However, the facts and figures are being disseminated through social media with accompanying ‘add-ons’ that have created unwarranted panic in some regions. South Africa is among these regions where misconceptions have thrived, despite only three infections.
This was among the factors that influenced the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) to host a workshop at the weekend, in order to provide collective guidance to the Muslim community. It comes despite various authorities trying to silence their fears through the assurance that sufficient measures are in place.
Among the panel of experts was Cape Town general practitioner Dr Salim Parker, who welcomed the open-mindedness of the council in that it had engaged with the medical fraternity.
Parker said that a few topics were discussed and a joint statement will soon be released.
“What was mostly discussed was the fear amongst Muslims in our current situation. From a medical point of view- there is no need to panic. Yes, we must be informed and prepared but at the moment there’s no need to panic in South Africa,” said Parker.
He explained that the country’s situation is far removed from others such as Italy, where 16 million people were put under quarantine in a bid to stop the virus from spreading. On Sunday, at least 7 000 were infected and 133 deaths were reported, bringing the total to 366 by Monday morning.
Parker explained that South Africa only has three confirmed cases, all of which are currently isolated.
“Yes, we have three cases, but these were all linked and travelled from Italy.”
Parker noted that in the case of South Africa, we had time to prepare.
“The fact that Coronavirus is relatively contained- not fully yet- in China, Wuhan, was as a result of firstly being very well-prepared and secondly, knowing what to do. Unfortunately, in cases where the disease spread so fast, very harsh measures had to be taken,” he said.
He applauded the Chinese government for the handling of the outbreak, stating that it is the “only the place in the world where a city of 10 million people would look like a ghost town within a few days.”
“If common sense measures are used, the spread of the disease can either be completely stopped or slowed down considerably for people to take the appropriate measures. “
In a sentiment shared with the Islamic Medical Associaition, Parker explained that the aim was to combine Islamic and medical advice:
“There is no distinction from talking from an Islamic point of view and a medical point of view. We tried to integrate the message so that it doesn’t go out where the medical experts are saying one thing and the ulema are sayings something else,” he said.
He also commended the advice given by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on how to combat and reduce the spread of the virus, having reiterated that Islam is not only the religion of peace but also the religion of cleanliness.
“We’re trying to integrate Islamic teachings, for example we are all told to wash our hands by the WHO and centres for disease control because this is one way of stopping the spread of the diseases. But instead of using that message, we are going to assimilate what we know in any case- a message that’s been going around for 1400 years: and that is that the Quran tells us surah 5 were we have to wash our hands frequently because that is part of cleanliness,” he said.
“We also know that the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) used to cough in a handkerchief. And WHO has been emphasising ‘coughing etiquette’.”
Another topic was that of the Islamic sunnah for Muslim men to shake hands- another gesture that people are told to avoid. Parker stated that because there is no real outbreak in the country, particularly in the Western Cape or Cape Town, people should continue to do so.
“In those types of situations there’s no real guideline or encouragement to stop greeting with the hands, for example after finishing salaah.”
Questions also arose over whether or not people should attend their local masjid. In comes after a number of international masajids advised against congregating.
“We follow what we know, if you’re sick you stay at home. If you’re not you come to masjid and perform your fard salaahs,” advised Parker.
Liquid soap with a high concentration of anti-septic ingredients is also preferable to soap, but Parker said that “bar soap is still better than no soap at all.”
Musali’s are also being advised to take wudu at home where possible as the sharing of towels is not recommended.
“The use of towels should be actively discouraged if more than one person is going to use it. Rather use single-use eco-friendly paper towels in the masjid setting, where a lot of people attend during wachts.”
Meanwhile, researcher at Africa Check Kate Wilkinson, said the outbreak has brought along “waves and waves of (hazardous) misinformation”. The extent of the distortion being distributed has led WHO to dub it an “info-demic” .
Wilkonson pointed out that there are a few categories of misinformation doing the rounds online.
“These include: false information about prevention or vaccine and very dangerous information about cures for the virus. We’re seeing a lot of panic about false information which suggests there is a far greater extent of the numbers than the official numbers actually say.”
Wilkonson said Africa Check has debunked a host of ‘home-made’ remedies such as the use of garlic, Detol and even Bleach to rid themselves of, or prevent, the virus. These appeared in the form of whatsapp messages, tweets, posts and videos sent across the social media various platforms.
She emphasised that the one about bleach in particular could prove to be fatal.
“When it comes to the issue of bleach, we’ve seen very dangerous misinformation –suggesting that a bleach solution can either prevent or cure the virus. What’s dangerous about this is that its not suggesting you use bleach to wipe down your counters… it’s suggesting that you actually ingest or swallow the bleach, or sometimes gargle (with it),” she explained.
“Let’s be straight about this- that is terrible, terrible advice. No one should be consuming bleach in an attempt to prevent or cure the virus. This can have very, very dangerous consequences. This can lead to severe vomiting and in some cases, if you ingest enough of it, it could lead to liver failure.”
She urged everyone to verify their facts before taking any action.
“If you see these types of messages, you really need to put your health and safety first. First of all, do not act on any medical advice from friends or family or that you see online, without consulting your doctor. And please do not share these messages unless you’re convinced they’re 100% reliable or accurate,” she pleaded.
The researcher also encouraged the public to avoid spreading fake news.
“During the outbreak we’ve seen an abundance of information spreading around the world. Some of it’s good and some of its bad. It really is our individual responsibility that we don’t make the situation worse,” she said.
“We need to help combat fear and panic and encourage measured responses and reasonable action with accurate information,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson urged the public to only refer to official accounts such as the National Institute for Communicable Diseases or the National Department of Health for updates and take advice from medical professionals.
As of Monday afternoon, the worldometer revealed that 111,645 people in 109 countires and territories are infected and the global death toll stood at 3 884.