Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Coronavirus

Letter from China: covid-19 on the grapevine, on the internet, and in commerce

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 19 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m643

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  1. Heather Mowbray
  1. Beijing
  1. hcmowbray{at}

In medically murky times in China, people are turning to rumour, hope, and faith to protect themselves from the new coronavirus. In Beijing, Heather Mowbray is hearing all sorts of stories about how to stop the virus—but scientific evidence for the advice is woefully absent

Here’s one example of the ideas floating around in China. Radio Free Asia reported that a Tibetan man named Tse was encouraging people to recite and forward a Buddhist prayer as a safeguard against the new coronavirus, covid-19. He was arrested for his efforts. Spreading rumours can land you in jail for seven years.

Community imposed social isolation means that everyone has plenty of time to read the latest news and advice online. Children have web based schooling, and adults do their searches from the kitchen table. The news aggregator Jinri Toutiao has leapt to the top of the app download list in the past month. Weibo, a blog platform somewhere between Twitter and Facebook, is ubiquitous. …

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