COVID-19: UN Chief Decries ‘Dangerous Epidemic of Misinformation’ About Coronavirus

Antonio Guterres warned against poisonous misinformation on social media that is putting more lives at risk.

Consortium News

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday blasted a “dangerous epidemic of misinformation” about the Coronavirus and urged people around the world to “trust in science” against a “poison that is putting even more lives at risk.”    

Social media has been inundated by opposition to vaccines, promotion of the idea that Covid-19 is just like a normal flu, that hospitals are empty and that enforced self-isolation based on medical advice is a plot to impose a permanent police state.

“Harmful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating,” Guterres said in a video message. “Falsehoods are filling the airwaves. Wild conspiracy theories are infecting the Internet. Hatred is going viral, stigmatizing and vilifying people and groups.” 

The secretary-general called for trust in institutions and leadership based on evidence and for social media companies to root out the misinformation that threatens the effort to combat the pandemic.

Guterres unveiled the establishment of a new UN Communications Response initiative “to flood the Internet with facts and science.” 

Guterres said: “Together, let’s reject the lies and nonsense out there.”

Statistics show Covid-19 is anything but a common flu. From October 2019 to Jan. 11, 2020, the U.S. CDC said at least 13 million Americans got the flu, killing 6,600 people. From Jan. 19, the date of the first recorded Covid-19 case in the U.S., to April 14, there have been 613,886 infected Americans, killing 26,047. 

Over these two, three-month periods, the rate of death is dramatically higher for Covid-19 (4.24 percent) than the flu (0.05 percent), and this comes with the mitigating effects of lock-downs and social isolation, not practiced for common influenza.  There is no vaccine for Covid-19 as there is for influenza, making it that more dangerous.

Defends WHO Against Trump 

Guterres on Tuesday also blasted the decision by Donald Trump on the same day to cut U.S. funding for the UN-affiliated World Health Organization (WHO). Seeking to deflect blame from himself for his poor handling of the crisis, Trump cut $ 400 million (about 15 percent of the agency’s funding), saying WHO had “failed in its basic duty” to combat the pandemic.

“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump told his daily Covid-19 White House briefing. 

In response, Guterres said: 

“This virus is unprecedented in our lifetime and requires an unprecedented response. Obviously, in such conditions, it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities. Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis. The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future.

But now is not that time.

As it is not that time, it is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”

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24 comments for “COVID-19: UN Chief Decries ‘Dangerous Epidemic of Misinformation’ About Coronavirus

  1. April 16, 2020 at 17:31

    False information is dangerous indeed. But there is another move afoot that might just make this misinformation seem trivial in comparison.

    These last days CNN and the BBC ( don´t watch other programs) have been filled with stories about The virus escaping from a Chinese lab. The inference being that it was a germ warfare lab. A lot of caviets with the story but we know from experience that this story is going to be repaeated adneauseum until it becomes fact. Then there is the story about the Iranian navy endangering American navy ships in the Gulf. It look as as though the US is spoiling for another war. That war if it is with China adn or Russia would make the Covit -19 virus look like a very minor ´problem.

    • Dean *
      April 18, 2020 at 11:01

      Good information, Dan. Thank you.

      Comments from intelligent observers on the Interwebs are one of the best ways to disinfect our brains from MSM sheep dip.

      I’m so thankful the Russians can’t turn off my electric infrastructure during a cold snap. I’m grateful lies of that quality only cost us $7M a year.

      Compare that with what we pay Ellen DeGeneres. $90M a year to show us selfies with great guy George W Bush at the baseball game and she laid off her union crew because she’s broadcasting from home.

  2. April 16, 2020 at 09:15

    Seems my comment challenging the claim that covid-19 presents an unprecedented threat was not well received. Covid-19 does present a serious threat but more so does the containment strategy if continued on its present course.

    Throwing the baby (the economy) out with the bath water (covid-19) is not a good idea. I note Bezos has suggested testing all of his employees. We should go there with the general population.

    Watching Trump trying to scapegoat the WHO is worrisome and consistent with his reckless regard for international bodies and cooperation. The latest attack on China, which in in part envy, has been flavored by some with suggestions that money owed to China should be seized to pay for the costs of the pandemic. Trump has not taken that position so far but others have and one wonders if it is a possibility.

    • Norah
      April 16, 2020 at 16:09

      I totally agree, C-19 looks like a modern version of the Plague. Trump has lost it if he thinks starving the WTO of funds at this point in time will in any way help. He should instead be GIVING them a couple of billion or at least asking them what Amerca can do to help.
      You can bet your bottom dollar that absolutely Trump and the rest are hell-bent on punishing China by withholding something ridiculous like a trillion ( 12 zeros ) dollars. That will be a big test for Chinese patience or tolerance, specially as they already think the whole thing was the first shot in a biowar by the US.

  3. April 15, 2020 at 11:30

    I think that at this time that (as a cirizen) I have enough data for an informed conclusion.
    This data is skewed by the mismanagement that occurred in the US and EU as well as countries DENIED access to the neccessary resources needed to combat this one.
    It is further skewed by current and historic lack of preparation in the face of persistent warnings. And then there is the issues of costs, where not all countries are able to have a prepared health care system.
    Adjusting for this, we still have a dangerous virus in play typical of other corona viruses but more contagious.
    As commenters here have pointed out, ignoring this in the past has led to unneccessary deaths numbering in the tens and hundreds of thousands. It’s likely that many were preventable.
    We can be prepared for this and future events in 12 to 36 months. This applies at all levels from personal homes to large institutions.
    It largely depends on supply chains and financial resources in general. However ultimately it is an issue of lifestyle and best practices. Cuba and Iran are good examples of that.
    I have folks isolated and medically vulnerable accross a range of ages from 30 to 80. I hesitate to make this latest status report. I would rather delay it. That sounds like the WHO on a micro scale.
    Clearly I should man up and make my report.
    Any desenting opinion on this cautious (understated?) assesment?

    • April 15, 2020 at 11:46

      Here’s something to consider.
      I need money. People depend on it. I work a job where I might as well be licking doorknobs. My exposure is similar to hospital staff with ad-hoc PPE.
      Awesome. On the bright side this raised my income slightly. That isn’t a bright side really.
      At 60 I have two compounding conditions.
      So. At some random point this is going to kill me. It depends on when my city hits an unknown saturation level.
      So what? That’s life. And death. I have a duty here. I would volunteer somewhere too if they needed me. I hear a country (the US) needs COBOL programmers amazingly (not to me.) The country isn’t revelant, the cause is.
      We citizens have duties and responsibilities here. Why are there not more healthy volunteers in the US? Their medical financial risks are too high. How ironic. And plainly evil.
      Isolation kills, well spaced visits would be good change at this time. Force the issue if you must.
      Do your duty. You can only die once.

  4. dfnslblty
    April 15, 2020 at 11:26

    What the 1957, 1968 and 2017/18 death tolls shout loud and clear is that potus & cie instigated this hysteria by downplaying the epidemic, by continuing to downplay the epidemic, by defunding Who, and by putting profit ahead of workers’ lives.

    • April 15, 2020 at 14:56

      I believe I heard that 1300 CEO’s of major corporations retired last year taking their stock options and golden parachutes with them( a record number) source;

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    April 15, 2020 at 11:10

    Sadly, too many people don’t give a hoot who they hurt, as long as they can get their “five minutes” of attention. What a sick society we have become. And even sicker to see/hear Trump add fuel to this misinformation fire. Shameless…

  6. Anonymot
    April 15, 2020 at 10:42

    Let’s state it differently: The flu is normal; been around for a long time and has both vaccinations and medical routines when it arrives. Coronavirus is new and highly deadly, because there’s no medical protocol for treating it. So don’t compare apples and jackfruit statistics.

    In 1968 we didn’t have the anti-flu medications that we have today. I don’t remember that massive number of deaths mentioned by Bethany, but I do know that the money for medical research has been very tight since the 2008 crisis. Most of our money goes to the military to change regimes of other countries and to make pretty interplanetary photos. We are completely unbalance, but insist on doing a high wire act.

    • Annie
      April 15, 2020 at 18:14

      Thank you for NOT framing your understanding of this pandemic in the immediate here and now, and providing some overall perspective. Too little of that is going on now, and mostly it’s not.

  7. Sally McMillan
    April 15, 2020 at 10:30

    We have had some excellent Secretary Generals of the UN. Antonia Guterres is one and so was Kofi Annan . WhenKofi Annan retired as Secretary General he advised that the UN needed some reforms, especially the Security Council. This has not happened.Why? SC members do not want to give up their veto. Typical of leaders in governments. When people have power, they do not want to give it up.
    Power corrupts.

    • Vera Gottlieb
      April 15, 2020 at 11:12

      As I see it, the entire Security Council should be abolished – let the entire United Nations delegates do the work. Move the UN out of the US, back to Europe.

  8. Me my self
    April 15, 2020 at 10:24

    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)Small-Body Database
    approaches to the Earth by near-Earth objects (NEOs)

    52768 (1998 OR2) provisional designation 1998 OR2, is an asteroid on an eccentric orbit, classified as near-Earth object and potentially hazardous asteroid › asteroid-52768-1998-or2-april-2020-how-to-see

    Apr 8, 2020 – Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2 will pass at a safe distance, at some 4 million miles (6 million km), or about 16 times the Earth-moon distance. It’s big – the biggest asteroid due to fly by Earth this year – and will come closest to Earth on April 29, 2020

    How prepared would we need to be fo something like this and would .GOV let any agency reveal the truth in advanc of such a event?

    April 15, 2020 at 09:19

    Well said.

    And almost like the big red cherry sitting on the top of the traditional chocolate sundae dessert, we have Trump’s act of cutting funding to the World Health Organization in the midst of a world pandemic as topping off a pile of his own follies and maniacal claims.

    Truly, this is the sickest, most incompetent man ever elected to high office.

    • miles w
      April 15, 2020 at 10:42

      Agreed. However He is backed by the greatest military this planet has ever seen, and 30% of Americans that would fight for whatever lies he tells. Four years ago it was up to thinking Americans to stop this stupidity, now the entire planet is threatened. We snuzz at our peril.

    • Ieuan Einion
      April 15, 2020 at 15:01

      Indeed, as you say “Truly, this is the sickest, most incompetent man ever elected to high office.”

      His only saving grace remains that he is neither Hillary Clinton nor Joe Biden.

  10. Simon Abbott
    April 15, 2020 at 07:34

    OK, well. He’s on message. No surprise there, then. But how long has the whole of the UN, through a SC that had largely chosen to completely ignore any GA resolution that didn’t meet the agenda of its leading members, actually become a failed project – rather like the EU? Pretty much since its inception, let’s face it. I am not criticising or trying to undermine the people who populate all the various organisations under the UN umbrella. I am sure it is full of hard working people committed to a fairer more peaceful planet. But as long as the agenda is only set by bullies, liars and imperialists, warmongers and their geo-political aims, the whole thing can fall apart with little loss. Especially when a single ‘philanthropist’ can actually significantly influence world health policy! Given a new constitution, perhaps it might work.. But let’s face it, the whole ridiculous charade would be triggered again in trying to agree it. I say this as a Brit. WTF we are doing on the SC these days? Being a US poodle, so our devious narcissistic ‘security’ services can continue to divide and rule us for the benefit of their warmongering neo-liberal masters. Sorry, keep us safe and protect our interests…

    • Theo
      April 15, 2020 at 12:26

      I fully agree. There is nothing to add.

  11. Bethany
    April 15, 2020 at 07:02

    It’s also true that 80,000 in the USA died of the flu in the winter of 2017/2018. I certainly didn’t know that at the time so I suppose that it wasn’t talked about that much, if at all.

    • Tom Welsh
      April 15, 2020 at 09:41

      In 1968 there was a major flu epidemic, and 38,000 people died in the UK (Maybe 200,000 in the USA, I forget).

      I was at university at the time, and I didn’t even notice. There may have been a few stories in the papers, but I have been looking through all my old letters (sent and received) and my family’s diaries – and there is not one mention of a flu epidemic.

    • michael
      April 15, 2020 at 09:59

      In 1968, about 100,000 Americans died from that flu, most over age 65.
      116,000 Americans died from the “Asian Flu” in 1957.
      Only 50% of Americans even bother with flu shots.

    • kaay
      April 15, 2020 at 11:56

      The mortality rate of the 1968 flu was 0.03%
      The mortality rate of the devastating 1918 “Spanish” flu was 1-3%
      The mortality rate of the new pandemic is hard to determine correctly because it just started, but so far the rates seem to be higher than the 1918 flu, despite the (tardy) measures that have been implemented.

    • rosemerry
      April 15, 2020 at 15:39

      It frightens me that so many people get their “news” from facebook and other profit-making ventures which can allow any wild ideas to be presented. The USA disdains any world body and regularly refuses to pay towards UN bodies. Having no interest in education, science or culture, UNESCO is an obvious no no for Americans,and of course world health is not of importance either to a nation which revels in conflict and sanctions on others.

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