Coronavirus doctor’s diary: fake news about schools cheating on parents


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PA Media

Just as the children are about to return to school, a Urdu video has been shown widely in Bradford, and possibly elsewhere, falsely claiming that sick students could be kicked out of their families without consent. parents. Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary is joining his efforts to debunk the idea – and says reopening schools is important for children and parents.

This week the schools are coming back and everyone is nervous. We have become used to working from home and social distancing, so the idea of ​​hundreds of thousands of children and young people suddenly meeting in confined environments for long periods of time is difficult to comprehend – a throwback to the era. pre-Covid-19.

From the start, Covid-19 created fertile ground for the spread of fake news, as I wrote in April.

The ban on going to hospital at the height of the pandemic has led to a disconnection between patients, staff and loved ones. We have struggled to counter rumors in different communities that we were harming patients or that the coronavirus was a cunning attempt by the Home Office to lure people to repatriate them. We have had sick patients who refused to be admitted for fear of what we were going to do to them.

Now the angst of going back to school has sparked a new round of false rumors. This time around, it is claimed that if the children get sick, they will be removed from their families and taken into care. Principals, principals and parents who heard the story approached Bradford City Council for assurance that this is not true. I myself was contacted by the chairman of the governors of a local school, who told me that despite her efforts to dispel rumors, she was concerned that accurate information would be passed on.

Frontline Journal

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Tom Lawton

Professor John Wright, physician and epidemiologist, heads the Bradford Institute for Health Research and is a veteran of the cholera, HIV and Ebola epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. He writes this newspaper for BBC News and records from hospital services for BBC Radio.

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In an attempt to understand why people fall for conspiracy theories, my colleague, consultant anesthesiologist Fozia Hayat, spoke to a father of three, Arshid Siddique, who told him he didn’t believe much in what he had been told about Covid-19. He accepted that Covid-19 existed, but did not believe people were dead from it.

“They committed suicide and Covid-19 was listed on the death certificates,” he said. “Doctors are paid to bring Covid-19 to the ground for anyone who dies in hospital. ”

This is a myth that Fozia and I have heard over and over.

Arshid said video of a woman warning that children could be quarantined by the state and not allowed to come home was sent to his wife, and that they believed her, so would not dismiss not their children in school. The speaker, whom he described as “a very talked-about woman,” says she is a tabeeba, an Urdu word for physician, and uses the title “doctor” in English, although her website describes her as “a trained practitioner of prophetic medicine.” She clearly does not have a medical science degree and is not a doctor in the usual sense of the word.

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Arshid Siddique


Arshid Siddique and his wife, Subia

So why did Arshid believe this person who appeared on social media, while dismissing government and NHS information?

“The government is not telling the truth and everyone in power keeps changing their minds,” he replied.

“First there is no Covid for children, then there is, then it is no masks for children and now that is changing.

“No one believes the officials. People are not telling the government the truth. There was this Dominic anyway and he was caught in the act. So if it’s real, and if it’s dangerous, and if it’s life- threatening, then why are these people doing this? ”

I have also heard other reasons for skepticism. Additional lockdown restrictions in West Yorkshire and Manchester were announced with bad timing the day before Eid al-Adha when food had already been prepared. And the contrast of being able to visit the pub but not your own family comes across as callous and unfair to some. There has been a loss of confidence in authority, which makes people more receptive to fake news.

Naz Shah, MP for West Bradford, who says people started asking him about the video a few days ago, says it’s always a tough decision to debunk fake news because in doing so you give them the oxygen of advertising.

But Bradford City Council clearly believes the story has already spread so far that it needs to be tackled head-on. Education Protection Officer Shaqib Juneja and Deputy Chief Imran Khan recorded videos assuring people that there is no truth in the story and that if the children are not feeling well, the parents will be invited to take them home.

Award bubble

Zahabia Naveed, 15, fears going back to school for another reason. During the lockdown, she learned how to grow vegetables from Alan Wainwright, 73, and wants to continue after the term begins. Alan has only had contact with two other people throughout the lockdown period, his wife and daughter. The last thing Zahabia wants to do is catch the virus from one of the 1,400 students at her school and accidentally introduce it into Alan’s bubble.

Bradford rapper Faisal is also spreading the word and there are plans to ask GPs to text their patients, assuring them that there is no question of separating sick children from their families. I was asked to record a video myself, which I am very happy to do.

We know a lot about Covid-19 and a lot we don’t, and that partly explains why advice on masks – as noted by Arshid Siddique – has changed over time.

Above all, the evidence is becoming clearer on the risk of Covid-19 in schools. Children have lower infection rates and generally much milder illness. Child-to-child transmission in schools is rare and severe outbreaks in schools are unusual. Data from other countries suggests that reopening schools does not increase community transmission.

Of course, parents will be worried their children will bring the virus home, and in Bradford, where there are many multigenerational households, the risk to older family members is real.

But there is nothing more important than a safe return to school. The loss of education during confinement will have lasting effects. Our children and youth need to reclaim their youth and their friends, while parents need to be freed from the challenges of home schooling and allowed to return to work.

Health and education

Health and education are so closely linked, but schools have historically been isolated from health services. Now is the time to tie our arms and we are working closely with our colleagues in public health to support school principals in the face of the sleepless nights we experienced in hospitals in the spring.

We have produced webinars and tips on how to prepare schools for opening, how to use face masks, what to do when a child is showing symptoms, how to manage an outbreak and how to provide mental health support.

We’ll also help reduce uncertainty by teaming up with leading UK scientists to help understand children’s immunity in the months to come.

A few days after Fozia’s conversation with Arshid Siddique, there was good news: his wife had received an encouraging call from a Urdu-speaking teacher at her daughter’s school.

“She told my wife that would never happen, that they couldn’t take the children. She reassured people and I told my wife that we would not let them test the children, ”he said.

There is still a heated debate over the video between the parents of the school’s students, according to Arshid, but he and his wife are now considering sending their children away.


Arshid Siddique and his daughter Ameera

Then, on Saturday, Fozia managed to speak to the woman who made the video that caused so much havoc. Her name is Alia Syed and she is based in Derby. She told Fozia that she made a huge mistake and now removed the video from her website and posted a retraction, in English and Urdu.

“I hope you will be able to reassure yourself now. Send your children to school, it is very important that they continue their education, ”says his new video.

It appears, however, that the original video is still circulating on social media and messaging apps.

If some of Bradford’s Asian kids stay home this week, rather than go back to school, we’ll be able to guess how much that hurt.

Dr Fozia Hayat will report on this story for My town on lockdown on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday September 1st

To follow @docjohnwright and radio producer @ SueM1tchell on Twitter


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