Infodemic: Covid-19 chaos in Romania and Ukraine’s cabbage cure

Katia Patin


Welcome to the Infodemic. We are tracking how global disinformation is shaping the world emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown. Today, from Brazil to Bucharest, Coda’s Katia Patin presents a few narratives — both real and fake — that have grabbed our attention and deserve yours.

Sign up for the Infodemic, tracking coronavirus disinformation

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for Covid-19 for a third time since he was first diagnosed on July 7. But that didn’t stop him from taking his $34,000 Honda motorcycle for a spin across the grounds of the presidential residence on Wednesday. He was photographed on the bike, chatting with gardeners. In keeping with his general position, Bolsonaro did not wear a mask, despite standing close to people. Brazil confirmed a record number of Covid-19 cases this week.

Over a thousand doctors in Serbia have sounded the alarm over the mishandling of coronavirus and are demanding that the country’s government-appointed pandemic unit be dissolved. Coronavirus cases have been surging since the end of lockdown in May. However, much of the anger has been stoked by an investigation revealing that the state intentionally misled Serbs on infection and death rates. Authorities have reportedly put pressure on doctors who speak out. “It is necessary to stand up against intimidation and politicization,” reads a petition signed by 1,200 doctors. However, President Aleksandar Vucic says that the only “bullying” happening is from opposition groups allegedly forcing doctors to sign. “The job of some is to destroy everything that exists in Serbia,” Vucic said.

Fact-checkers in Ukraine have called out cabbage propaganda on Russian-language media sites, which have reported that the vegetable can “kill coronavirus.” Their evidence: high rates of sauerkraut consumption in Germany and kimchi eating in South Korea coincide with low mortality rates. The pro-cabbage posts misquote a recent study by the University of Montpellier in France. The researchers say that a healthy diet — not an exclusively cabbage-based one — leads to lower coronavirus-related mortality rates. In Ukraine, new coronavirus cases continue to rise as tens of thousands of holidaymakers have descended on Black Sea beaches.

Sign up for the Infodemic, delivered Mondays and Fridays

Medical dictatorship or viral chaos in Romania? 

Hundreds of Covid-19 patients in Romania are walking out of hospitals, despite testing positive for the virus. A June 26 ruling from the Constitutional Court stripped the government of legal authority to enforce quarantine measures, leaving some patients free to discharge themselves, against medical advice. Now health officials say that over 700 Covid-19 patients have left coronavirus wards and are contributing to a nationwide surge in new cases.

Patients like Sorin Fanica, a 27-year-old from the Dambovita region, outside Bucharest, say that they have little faith in the treatment offered by doctors and feel like they will get better care elsewhere. Fanica told Romanian media that he has had “six panic attacks” since being admitted to Targoviste County Hospital and added that he felt “more scared” in the coronavirus ward than at home.

Romania’s healthcare system is notorious for its poor levels of care, consistently ranking bottom on the Euro Health Consumer Index. However bad conditions may be in hospitals, patients who discharge themselves already appear to be infecting their family members. Staff from the hospital where Fanica was being treated say that in the past few days close to 30 new cases have followed this pattern.

The legislative decision couldn’t come at a worse time for Romania. The country of 19 million reported nearly three times the amount of daily cases yesterday as at the beginning of the month.

Coronavirus conspiracy theories being spread on social media are also contributing to a lack of public trust in the country’s institutions. Some doctors are even accusing the government of overstating the crisis, in order to receive EU relief funds.

Conservative religious groups and nationalist forces lobbied hard against government quarantine measures, saying that the authorities were imposing a “medical dictatorship” and exaggerating the spread of the virus in the country.

Sign up for the Infodemic

Hungry for more? Check out I especially recommend this piece on how trolls and bots are deflecting criticism of President Duterte’s handling of the worsening coronavirus crisis in the Philippines.

It takes a village, or in our case a team to put this newsletter together. Coda Story’s Gautama Mehta and Achi Tsitsishvili contributed to this one. 

Thanks for reading. And see you on Monday,

Katia Patin
Multimedia Editor, Coda Story