A Public Health Ministry nurse measures the temperature of a passenger arriving from France, at the Toussaint Louverture airport
A Public Health Ministry nurse measures the temperature of a passenger arriving from France, at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 4, 2020.

WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE - As Haitian government officials intensify their efforts to inform and prepare the nation for the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, residents of Petionville, a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince, seemed woefully uninformed about the deadly disease.

“Do you know how people get infected with coronavirus?” a woman who didn’t want to appear on camera asked VOA Creole’s reporter. “It’s the result of too many sins. That’s why the disease is spreading worldwide. This is God’s way of punishing us.”

Louis Jeune François believes the coronavirus is a conspiracy. (Matiado Vilme/VOA)

Louis Jeune Francois, a voodoo worshiper who had just attended a service believes the pandemic is a conspiracy.

“There are 21 families which rule the world. Maybe they feel the population is too big, so they found a way to reduce it. They created a virus to kill a group of people,” he said. “They especially want the virus to kill people in the poorest countries.”

This woman told VOA Creole she doesn’t believe the coronavirus only targets people who practice certain religions. (Matiado Vilme/VOA)

Another voodoo worshiper told VOA she doesn’t believe coronavirus has anything to do with black magic.

“Coronavirus isn’t just a hex on Haiti, don’t you see China is infected with the virus too?” she said. “People who are blaming it on religion are wrong, the virus targets both Protestants and Pagans. You just need to be cautious.”

Another man who didn’t want to be identified seemed to understand the basics.

“From what I understand, the coronavirus is a virus. It’s a virus that’s transmitted through the air,” he said.

Asked what preventative measures they can take to avoid being infected, residents offered various solutions.

“Don’t shake hands, fist bump instead,” one man suggested.

This market vendor says hand-washing and avoiding touching your face can keep you healthy, March 12, 2020. (Matiado Vilme/VOA)

“Wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, don’t pick your nose, use a handkerchief,” a woman selling clothing at the local open air market advised.

“I don’t buy this washing hands thing,” another man said. “Of course you have to wash your hands, because if your hand is dirty you won’t be able to use it. I was brought up to do that. But some people say you should eat limes, eat local fruits, because they are natural (and won’t harm your health).”

Expanding on the homeopathic remedy idea, a man told VOA he heard there are vegetable leaves you can boil to protect yourself from the virus.

“Boiling leaves is part of our culture,” he said.

This man had accurate information about how the pandemic spreads but also believes consuming certain boiled plants can protect him from being infected. (Matiado Vilme/VOA)

Most people VOA Creole spoke to said the government should act more responsibly to inform the nation about the virus.

“Haiti is a free country, people do whatever they want here, but there are countries where planes are not allowed to land, transportation is restricted, but here there are no restrictions that I’m aware of,” a woman shopping at the open air market said. “We have no protections whatsoever. We’re in God’s hands.”

“If the government forbids groups of 500 people or more to meet, I will know that if I see that happening I should not attend,” one man said. “But if the number they give is 1,000 or 2,000 then I’ll go ahead and attend because it’s hard to get that many people in one place around here.”

Haiti’s Public Health Minister Marie Greta Roy Clement announced Wednesday that the government has stepped up efforts to keep coronavirus out. The measures include screening at the nation’s airports and official border crossings, training for health professionals and journalists, and public service announcements airing on radio and television.

Renan Toussaint in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.

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