As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread around the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined a different type of outbreak to be concerned about. As information on the virus deluges traditional and social media, the WHO warns that societies around the world are facing an “infodemic”—an “overabundance” of information that makes it difficult for people to identify truthful and trustworthy sources from false or misleading ones.
Many states have long relied on various forms of information control, such as surveillance and censorship, as part of their approach to governance. With the development of advanced digital technologies, states have new tools to monitor citizens, restrict communication, and manipulate information. While observers have expressed concerns that information control violates human rights and suppresses citizen influence in governance, the Covid-19 virus highlights another area where government information suppression can have pernicious consequences: public health.
The U.S. and China have a mutual interest in containing the outbreak, but exchanges over the virus have not been without friction.
China hit a grim landmark earlier this week when the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak surpassed 1,000 with over 40,000 recorded cases of infection—and those numbers are rising every day. The outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, has rattled global markets and catalyzed concern over a widespread epidemic beyond China’s borders. The suffering has been immense, and people in China and those with family or friends there are frightened about what’s next. Meanwhile, there are shortages of masks and supplies and hospitals are overrun, with rising anxiety due to travel restrictions and quarantine policies.
Why is the coronavirus affecting some territories more than others? This week’s featured graphic illustrates the hotspots for outbreaks of new and recurring diseases. For more on global health security and infectious disease containment, read Ursula Jasper’s CSS Analyses here.