Submitted by Li Wei, an Italian student from China.
Monologue of An International Student. Overall, I’ve lived in Italy for almost five years. I’ve been following the development of coronavirus worldwide for some weeks, so when on Friday I read the news that many cases had been reported in Lombardia, not far from Milan, I was immediately worried. Especially because Milan is a lot like Dublin, in the sense that many people travel from all around the city, far and wide, to work and study in Milan. From Friday evening I began buying food and drink from my local supermarket, and by Sunday morning, before any panic had set in, I had already organized my own supplies. People began to panic from Sunday evening when many supermarket shelves began to empty, especially of foods like pasta, rice and any form of tinned food. Still water is completely sold out. I have already bought 24 liters for myself, so I am well prepared at least. Last night I called my father and asked him to find some face masks and send them to me via DHL (敦豪速递), as they had completely disappeared here in Milan. Simple hand sanitizers are almost impossible to find, too, and are being sold for as much as €12 for a 100ml bottle. My workplace has invited anybody who can work from home to do so for the rest of this week. This is something that has given me some form of relief, because the thought of using public transport or even being in an office environment and canteen environment for lunch, with people who are coming to Milan from all around the provinces, scares me. Life in Milan is more or less carrying on as normal, though, today. I visited my local supermarket this morning, and the situation didn’t improved much. Fruit and vegetables were back in supply, at least. There was anxiety among shoppers. Last year we had a call from a concerned but grateful parent. Having previously been skeptical about vaccines, having read one of our fact checks, she’d decided to go ahead and have her children vaccinated. It sticks in my mind as an example of the harm that bad information can do. Misleading claims around vaccines have encouraged parents to disregard medical advice and take unnecessary risks with their children’s lives. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have been fighting a similar tide of false information. But of particular concern are some people spreading false or misleading health advice. This is often done with the best of intentions: it’s a natural response to a scary situation to pass on advice that you think might help protect your friends and family. But if that information turns out to be wrong, you risk doing more harm than good. The misinformation we’ve seen broadly falls into two separate categories. Some, such as the claim that children are immune. Without the proper context, these changes over time into something more dangerous. Children may suffer less from the virus, but they could still pass it on to weaker friends and family. The other type is bad information dressed up as official health guidelines and advice. This week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the NHS both announced measures designed to fight against bad information around this virus. A Facebook post shared more than 300,000 times made several dangerous claims. Chief among them was the “advice” that a runny nose means you have a common cold — not COVID-19. This is wrong; this symptom is rarer in COVID-19 sufferers, but it does not rule it out. The post also made the unfounded claim that the virus will die in temperatures above 27℃. The potential real-world repercussions of such a post are plain to see. It’s right that social media platforms have come under scrutiny. But we’ve also seen misleading claims from traditional print and broadcast media. We face a global public health crisis in the age of misinformation — good health advice can make the difference between life and death. Your Friend, Li Wei :)