How the dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation is undermining public health confidence

Written by Kirti Pathak

Published on : April 28, 2021 12:16

Image Source -Unicef
Image Source -Unicef

Over the Easter weekend, images of British Columbia’s regional health officer unmasked at an airport started to circulate on Facebook.

Dr. Bonnie Henry appeared to be boarding a helicopter in another picture. Commenters believed the health official was going to Victoria for the long weekend to see relatives, in violation of her own non-essential travel guidelines.

After delivering a COVID-19 briefing in Vancouver earlier that day, Henry flew back to Victoria, where she lives, according to B.C.’s Health Ministry.

Though Henry was unmasked in a picture, she appeared to be sitting alone with a cup of coffee in an airport waiting for a lounge with no one around her. In a third picture, she was veiled as she waited to board the plane.

The false rumor about Henry’s weekend trip has persisted online in the weeks since, illustrating an “infodemic,” a phrase coined by the World Health Organization to describe the flood of knowledge, much of it false, that occurs during a disease outbreak.

In the last year, social media accounts have circulated a bogus list of COVID-19 wisdom attributed to Henry; rumors of stay-at-home orders in B.C. (debunked earlier this month by B.C.’s health minister); and, in mid-April, speculation of a code orange caused at Surrey Memorial Hospital signaling a mass casualty incident (debunked earlier this month by B.C.’s health minister) (quickly debunked by the Fraser Health Authority).

The rumor has spread amid long-held beliefs that vaccines are dangerous and the pandemic is a hoax, according to experts, weakening public institutions and putting people’s health at risk.