Infodemic: How Covid-19 has affected childbirth around the world and endangered turtles in Oman

Katia Patin


Welcome. We are tracking how disinformation is shaping the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, from Japan to Oman, Coda’s Katia Patin brings you the latest narratives — both real and fake — that have grabbed our attention and deserve yours.

In Lebanon another partial lockdown began on Friday, as daily coronavirus case numbers have nearly tripled in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion. But not everyone agrees on the government’s true motives for the new restrictions. Some critics believe they are being imposed to prevent demonstrations after the blast, for which many hold state negligence to blame. “Fear is a strong and dangerous political tool that was used earlier in the pandemic, and it’s being used after the explosion,” Karim Nammour, a board member at the Beirut non-profit Legal Agenda, told one reporter.

In Myanmar, authorities are blaming a recent spike in coronavirus cases on Rohingya refugees. In a Facebook post that was later deleted, a member of Rakhine state parliament attributed new cases to displaced people. Officials who visited camps, where up to 10 families often share a single house, urged people to socially distance. Last week, the regional capital of Sittwe was locked down after recording 48 new cases — 10% of the national total.

Hungary has dropped criminal proceedings against a group of Iranian students who had already been deported from the country in April for allegedly violating quarantine rules. Authorities have said that a residence ban will be lifted, allowing the students to return. They had been used as scapegoats by state-controlled media and during government briefings, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban directly linked the spread of coronavirus in the country to Muslim migration.

Pregnancy during the pandemic

The pandemic has proved a powerful pretext for some governments to limit access to family planning and abortion. It has also sparked discussion of women’s rights during pregnancy and childbirth. 

One of the latest examples can be found in Japan, where a fierce online debate is taking place over a policy adopted by most hospitals requiring women to wear masks during labor, even after they test negative for the virus.

Rumors spread on social media say that wearing a mask during labor is dangerous and can cause oxygen deprivation, a claim health experts have tried to debunk. One woman who spoke to the Japan Times defended the policy, but complained that doctors never warned her about their mask policy until she went into labor.

“We don’t know what the correct thing to do is,” said one professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Saitama Medical University Hospital, where the mask-during-labor policy was recently rolled back.

Across the world coronavirus has upended women’s reproductive rights:

  • In Armenia, women have complained of being forced to give birth without a family member present and of being lied to by doctors about needing cesarean sections, in order to move them out of maternity wards more quickly. Both practices run against guidance on pregnancy issued by the World Health Organization in July
  • An investigation by openDemocracy has documented similar violations across the Eurasian region, in nations including Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine
  • In Montenegro the head of the country’s largest hospital has urged women to simply not get pregnant during the pandemic

Why this matters: The UN has published some staggering statistics relating to the effect coronavirus is having on childbirth around the world, including that it could lead to more than 7 million unintended pregnancies.

Stay on the story: In this video report, Rachel Sherman looks at how coronavirus restrictions have been used as global justification to limit access to abortion.

Before you go

If you thought humanity was the only thing under threat from the coronavirus, think again. Four species of endangered turtles use the beaches of Oman for nesting. Under normal circumstances, these grounds are monitored by rangers and stiff penalties are faced by poachers. Now, owing to the pandemic, patrols have been suspended. This leaves the way clear for the theft of eggs and the trading of hatchlings to exotic pet collectors. Leave them alone, people, and watch this video instead.

That’s it from me until Friday. Many thanks to Dave Stelfox and Caitlin Thompson for contributing to this newsletter. And, as always, hit reply anytime if you have tips, questions or feedback.

Thanks for reading,

Katia Patin
Multimedia Editor