The coronavirus has infected about 12 million people and killed more then 540,000 globally, yet in some pockets of the world, people are unaware of its existence.
COVID-19 has ravaged the globe for the past six months, grinding international travel to a halt and plunging economies into recession.
But there are groups of people who still don’t know about the pandemic, and in some cases, they are highly vulnerable to the virus.
Many Ethiopian migrants ‘haven’t heard of COVID-19’
In Africa, many Ethiopian migrants are making a perilous journey across stark landscapes.
Somalia is just the first step before they transit to Yemen, and then to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries seeking work, according to Carlotta Panchetti, program officer with the UN’s International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Mogadishu.
“We’re talking mainly about young migrants, among which we have high percentages of unaccompanied children or females traveling alone who are really desperately looking for better opportunities,” she said.
She said when IOM began surveying migrants they encountered to see if they knew about the coronavirus, the numbers shocked them.
In March, when the coronavirus first started spreading through Somalia and was declared a pandemic, 88 per cent of migrants IOM surveyed had not heard about the coronavirus.
At the end of June, awareness had grown, but still 49 per cent were unaware of the global outbreak.
“It’s a lack of access to internet, to reliable information, and could be hindered by language barriers.”
When migrants were told about the highly contagious deadly virus, she said, the response was one of mingled disbelief, surprise, scepticism, fear and uncertainty.
“Now there is the additional stigma [they] might be a carrier of the virus,” she said.
In one video provided by IOM, one woman in a bright blue hijab, said the group had given her awareness of the coronavirus and advice about social distancing and hand hygiene.
In another video, an IOM worker walks through a camp of corrugated iron and makeshift shelters, sharing health advice via a megaphone.
“Do not say that the virus only affects non-Muslims, it can affect any human being,” she said.
“The disease can only be prevented through hygiene.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned COVID-19 infections are accelerating in Africa, with the continent surpassing half a million cases and recording more than 11,000 deaths.
Ethiopia has more than 6,000 cases and 100 deaths, while Somalia has more than 3,000 cases and more than 90 deaths.
IOM East and Horn of Africa spokesperson Yvonne Ndege added that migrants often had no mobile phone access and their circumstances often made them vulnerable to the virus, as they were often forced to sleep in close proximity to others and were on migration routes with limited sanitation or medical facilities.
Myanmar internet ban leaves villagers ‘deaf and blind’ to virus threat
Humanitarian workers have told both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International that the world’s longest internet shutdown in parts of Myanmar has cut off access to crucial information — including about the fatal disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Nine townships in Rakhine and Chin states have been cut off from mobile access, impacting about 1 million people living in the conflict zone.
He told the ABC it was impossible to tell how many people in villages knew about the virus, but said tens of thousands had been internally displaced in camps, which were often ideal incubators for the rapid spread of disease.
“There are only a few people who are aware of COVID-19 in the camps,” one relief worker told Amnesty International, estimating just 5 per cent understood the threat.
One displaced resident from Minbya township, who knew about the virus, told Amnesty International people learned about COVID-19 from TV, newspapers and illegal satellite dish connections, but didn’t have access to up-to-date information through the internet.
“I’m worried because for war you can hide in the bush or nearby, but for the virus you can’t hide,” he said.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, said in a statement that while Myanmar was urging people to stay at home and prevent the spread, “in Rakhine and Chin states its military was burning down homes and killing civilians in indiscriminate attacks that amount to war crimes”.
Mr Robertson said the internet shutdown was designed to keep both people in Rakhine and the international community in the dark about the conflict unfolding there.
“The reason that it becomes more pernicious is because there is a COVID outbreak, and that … affects everyone,” he said.
Myanmar Government spokesperson Zaw Htay said he could not take media questions over the phone before hanging up. He did not respond to further calls or messages.
The Government has maintained the internet blackout is necessary to thwart communications and planned attacks from the Arakan Army in Rakhine.
Myanmar has officially recorded very low numbers of infections, just 316 cases and only six deaths. But questions remain about testing and the quality of healthcare.
Rakhine state has been largely spared from infections, though a handful of cases were reported in mid-June.
Isolated Indigenous groups in Brazil’s Amazon
Brazil has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, second only to the United States.
It had recorded more than 1.6 million infections — including the President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the virus.
More than 66,000 people have died, and remote Indigenous communities have been dying at a higher rate than the general population, with estimates of more than 400 deaths and 12,000 infections.
Tiago Amaral, international advisor to Articulation of Indigenous People in Brasil (APIB), said while the majority of Brazil’s 300 Indigenous peoples were connected to the media and aware of the coronavirus outbreak, there was an estimated 107 groups of Indigenous peoples who have no contact with settlers.
Those groups with very limited or zero contact would be unaware the virus even existed, he said.
“This is, in a way, a very good situation for them right now to keep the distance.”
Mr Amaral said some groups were “rightfully scared” of contact with settlers and lived deep in the Amazon, some were loosely mapped out through airplane recognition photographs, while others live in complete isolation.
While there are laws in Brazil to help protect Indigenous peoples’ way of life that pre-dates European settlement, land grabbers and loggers had thrived under the right-wing Government, putting the Amazon at risk.
“Not only is COVID a bad thing, but all the diseases that people bring with them can actually be really harmful.”
The pandemic, he added, had made it easier for loggers and APIB had seen a rise in cases of land grabbing.
He added that a key focus of Indigenous health was how to prevent the spread of diseases to Indigenous territories.
“It was clear, right from the beginning, that the Federal Government wouldn’t be an ally to fight this pandemic,” he said.
He said Indigenous rights groups had banded together and mapped out a plan to build simple emergency health bases in hard-hit zones, and was campaigning and raising money for equipment.