The Infodemic: A global race for a fake cure; On the margins of Covid-19: how the pandemic affecting lives of Europe’s Roma

Natalia Antelava


Welcome back! We’re tracking the global spread of coronavirus disinformation, and what is being done to combat it. Let’s dive in. 

A global race for a fake cure

While scientists around the world are racing to come up with a vaccine, it looks like there is a parallel competition for fake cures:

  • In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has dismissed imported coronavirus testing kits as faulty, saying they returned positive results on samples taken from a goat and a pawpaw. The president, who has previously asked Tanzanians to pray the coronavirus away, instead placed an order for herbal treatment for the coronavirus from Madagascar.
  • Madagascar, is in fact doing quite well with its Covid-Organics, the herbal treatment touted as a cure by the country’s president, Andry Rajoelina. In the previous Infodemic, we reported that Madagascar managed to sell it to Guinea Bissau. Next in line for shipments, along with Tanzania, are Equatorial Guinea and Senegal. 
  • Meanwhile in China, the country’s top Covid-19 expert Zhong Nanshan (China’s equivalent of Dr. Fauci) says there is enough evidence to prove that the Chinese traditional remedy Lianhua Qingwen works in treating Covid-19 patients. Chinese embassies around the world are now including the herbal treatment in aid bags they are sending to Chinese students overseas. 
  • In Lebanon, Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has been spotted wearing an Air Doctor card, which its manufacturer claims sanitizes the air around the wearer and kills pathogens. It has also been endorsed by Bassil’s rival, the leader of Amal Movement, Nabih Berri. It is rare to see Lebanon’s competing power blocs agreeing on something, but pseudoscience seems to have done the trick.  


  • In Kuwait police fired tear gas at stranded and now unemployed Egyptian workers who are unable to return home amid the pandemic. 
  • In Bangladesh authorities have quarantined 29 Rohingya refugees without any access to aid on Bhasan Char island in the Bay of Bengal in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

These are just two examples of hundreds of eruptions of abuse and violence happening all around the world. The victims, as always, are those who were on the margins before the crisis began. 

Coda’s Katia Patin has been looking into how Covid-19 is fueling old hatreds inside the European Union. Keep reading!

SPOTLIGHT: Roma in Eastern Europe ᛫ Katia Patin

A couple of days ago, I watched a deeply disturbing video.

The most terrifying thing about it is what I couldn’t see:  a man, who is just out of the shot, letting out long screams as someone hit him, again and again.

As he screams the camera focuses on four other men. They are lying on the ground with their faces down and their hands tied behind their back. Two camouflaged policemen with machine guns on their backs watch over them.

Then the camera moves. There are three more men on what looks like a dusty village lane. Then for just a second before the video abruptly cuts we see a policeman hitting the screaming man with a black baton. “Stay at home,” the policeman shouts. 

This video filmed in Romania’s Giurgiu province is just the latest example of coronavirus-related targeting of Roma minority groups across the region. 

Racism against Roma is an endemic issue in many Eastern European countries. In Bulgaria, Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov has penned a national strategy for “the integration of the unsocialized Gypsy [Roma] ethnicity,” using pejorative language for Roma people and proposing limits on the number of children women can have.

But since the pandemic Roma are increasingly becoming the target of discriminatory measures meant to curb the spread of the virus.

Bulgaria selectively locked-down majority Roma neighborhoods in the capital Sofia, sealing off the area with checkpoints where authorities only allowed people to exit after showing proof of employment and an ID.

The measures in Bulgaria as well as Slovakia — where the government deployed its army to lockdown Roma communities — prompted Amnesty International to condemn them as “arbitrary and disproportionate.

A Bulgarian member of the European Parliament recorded a video defending the measures. It was titled “No To Racism,” but the headline stood in sharp contrast to the actual message:

“These people have very low personal hygiene,” the parliament member, Angel Dzhambazki, said about Roma. He described them as people involved in “begging, stealing, prostitution.” 

Hungry for more? 

  • “A growing number of leaders around the world have dropped even the pretense of playing by the rules of democracy” says a damning report from Freedom House. It’s a depressing read.
  • And, did you know that the codeword for finding an underground hairdresser in Poland is “where can I drop by for a book?” That’s according to Gazeta Wyborcza.

Thank you for reading, and if you find this interesting, help us spread the word by forward this newsletter to a friend

 I’ve also loved all the tips and questions you’ve been sending our way. Keep them coming. 

See you on Friday,

P.s. It takes a village, in this case a team to bring you this newsletter. Coda’s Ariam Alula, Chaewon Chung, Isobel Cockrell, and Dave Stelfox contributed to this one.