The coronavirus pandemic has reached Zimbabwe and suddenly fake news merchants have gone on the prowl.
We are now witnessing a dose of pure mischief, nightmares of the frightened and earnest ignorance.
The Government, through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has been keeping Zimbabweans posted with daily briefings and President Mnangagwa himself has been announcing the measures which the Government is taking.
The fact that nothing much had happened until this weekend, when the first two confirmed cases, both being properly managed, means there was not much to announce.
The Government’s measures are largely getting the health sector organised and funded, giving people advice, limiting the size of gatherings, closing schools early for the Easter holidays, banning travel by civil servants and making appeals for united action.
The bans are not political, but have been largely on the recommendation of public health experts to limit the spread of the virus.
The Government has no reason or wish to hide anything.
Public health experts have both a professional and legal duty to announce what is happening and to give advice to mitigate the effect of any pandemic.
So the only real facts are those put out by these authorities.
And when it comes to Government action, only the Government can say what action it is taking. Anyone else’s prediction is just a guess that can be good or bad.
Around the world, fake news, distorted news and the most horrific conspiracy theories have been circulating, usually on social media platforms.
And checking these out has been taking up the time and resources of those who are doing the actual work of fighting the pandemic and mitigating its effects.
It needs to be remembered that every message, article or video posted on a social media platform was posted by a person. And everything that is spread is through other people. There is no such thing as “social media says . . . .”.
All we have is that someone has said.
Usually the more inaccurate, speculative and paranoid material is totally anonymous, and usually for a good reason.
Many people might well believe a social media message originating by a named expert, say the Secretary for Health and Child Welfare or the professor of infectious diseases at the University of Zimbabwe.
Few, though, would accept the inaccurate messages that circulate so much faster if they actually knew who made the first post.
Having a mental image of these sort of people, say a 19-year-old school drop-out smoking mbanje, might help keep everything in perspective.
Rumour mongering has always been with us.
Until a decade or two ago, those passing on mist as fact would normally start by saying something like: “I know this is true. I got it from a guy in a bar who heard it from his uncle’s next-door-neighbour’s sister-in-law’s ex-husband’s gardener’s grandfather.”
And it is pretty much the same now except the messages get passed along on a suitable social media platform.
The truly paranoid might like to remember that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is represented everywhere and maintains and publishes its own statistics, which are readily available along with caveats.
The main caveat at the moment is that while deaths from coronavirus are being properly counted around the world, the number of confirmed cases is less than the actual number of infected people largely because several countries in Europe are now only testing the old and other vulnerable groups.
They were testing all suspected cases until it was confirmed the virus was seriously loose in their countries and then they kept the load down to manageable levels for their labs.
And they announced this change when it was made.
This is, in fact, fair enough as there is no cure and the young and fit generally need no other treatment but a week or two of bed rest, just like any other bad dose of flu, while the old and vulnerable may well need specialised nursing and symptomatic treatment for their vulnerabilities.
The Government and Ministry of Health and Child Care will be giving the full facts as they appear, and these are the only facts that are facts. The rest is paranoia and guesswork.
Presumably the authorities, if things become more serious, will use multiple platforms to get the facts out, to give the latest advice and to announce any measures that prudence suggests would be wise to implement.
We have all been bombarded with advice, good advice, from the authorities.
Even when the President speaks, he is giving his authority to what his medical experts are telling him and advising him, converting that advice into policy.
What we now all need to do is work from accurate facts, accept professional advice, and all work together to minimise the impact this serious illness will bring.