German Covid-19 rebellion goes pop and manhunt in Belgium

“Ich mach nicht da mit” (“I don’t do it”). So goes an anti-foreclosure song from a far-right German conspiracy theorist who topped the Amazon charts in the country this week. R&B singer Xavier Naidoo’s track was quickly pulled from YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music for violating community standards. But, as Amazon has been slower to respond, thousands of Naidoo’s Telegram fans have swarmed the platform, pushing it to the top of the charts. The song, which encourages resistance against the “corona dictatorship” and describes vaccines as “poison,” also provides the perfect soundtrack to a bizarre situation unfolding alongside.


I watched with fascination a Netflix-worthy saga unfold in Belgium. The country’s military and police deployed hundreds of officers, along with dogs and demining equipment, and closed a major highway as they traversed Hoge Kempen – a 12,000-hectare national park to the east from Brussels – looking for a 46-year-old career soldier. named Jurgen Conings.

Conings is heavily armed. Belgian police believe he robbed a military base and is in possession of an array of weapons, including anti-tank rocket launchers and a machine gun. Part of the arsenal was found in his abandoned car.

Dutch and German police are on standby, in case Conings tries to cross the border. Belgian authorities say he poses an “acute threat” to the public and, in particular, to a well-known epidemiologist by the name of Marc van Ranst, whom he has threatened. In his latest post, Conings said he no longer wanted to live in a world ruled by “politicians and virologists”.

The whole story is a fascinating and extreme illustration of how Covid-19 provided far-right supporters with a new cause to rally around. Conings previously served in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and was known to his colleagues for his far-right leanings, including racist comments and threats on social media. At the start of the pandemic, he appears to have become involved in the Virus Waanzin (Virus Madness) anti-containment group.

With his extensive military training, Conings proves difficult to find. Meanwhile, as police roam the woods, supporters rally online. Tuesday, Facebook to close a 50,000 member Coning fan group.

“People who make him a movie hero, or a Rambo character are wrong,” said Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden.

But his allies fought back: “Jürgen Conings symbolizes a failed system,” wrote Kimberley Wuyts, one of the 2,500 (and not over) who invaded Telegram after being kicked out of Facebook.

A nationalist politician accused Van Ranst of “being a joke” and said his lockdown recommendations should never have been taken seriously by officials.

The virologist fired back. “On Telegram, you can see your constituents germinating live on the soil you’ve fertilized for years. These are the radicalized people who now support a terrorist and continually threaten / insult me ​​”, Van Ranst tweeted from a safe house, where he and his family have been held by Belgian authorities since the start of the manhunt.

Pakistan has joined a growing list of countries – including Cuba, Japan, Taiwan and Kazakhstan – that can boast of having a local Covid-19 vaccine. The main purpose of PakVac, developed with help from Chinese vaccine company CanSinoBio, is to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on imported vaccines, but officials hope it will also help tackle the rampant reluctance towards vaccines.

Anti-vaccine propaganda has been a huge obstacle to Pakistan’s pandemic efforts. The blows are available but just below 5% of the country’s 216 million people have received one. One reason: Extremist groups have circulated theories that vaccination campaigns are a western plot aimed at sterilizing Muslims.

Will people be more accepting of a local vaccine? This is the assumption made by Pakistani officials. The deployment of PakVac is filled with patriotism. The campaign is called “Pakistan first ” and the packaging features a prominent national flag.

But elsewhere, domestic vaccines seem to have had the opposite effect. “Indian Covaxin has actually increased reluctance, due to a lack of efficacy data and premature approval, followed by reports of doctors refusing to take the local vaccine,” says Ali Abbas Ahmadi, researcher in vaccine disinformation at First Draft News.

Likewise, according to a survey published this week by independent research organization Levada Center, 62% of people in Russia – the first country to approve a home vaccine last August – are still hesitant to receive a Sputnik V vaccine.

The government of Tajikistan has put its head in the sand, just as it did last year when it spent weeks denying the existence of Covid-19 cases in the country. A visit by the World Health Organization to the Central Asian state last May finally forced authorities to admit the presence of the coronavirus, but the official figures are again at zero. This does not match the anonymous testimonies of doctors, who told our friends to Eurasian that they have patients with coronavirus symptoms, but testing them is pointless because all tests come back negative anyway. And here’s the reason they won’t say it openly: Last week, the head of the National Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance Service in the northwestern Sughd region said a man had been quarantined because of the symptoms of Covid-19. This week he was fired.

As all other cat owners will agree, our feline friends got us through the pandemic. This is not the case for a North Korean family living near the Chinese border, who thrown in a Covid-19 isolation center this week for the outrageous crime of owning a cat. Paranoid authorities had ordered residents to “catch and kill pigeons and cats” under the false impression that they could spread the virus by crossing into China and back. The North Koreans dutifully slaughtered birds flying over the border, while authorities patrolled homes for illicit kittens. The family reportedly told officers their pet was dead, but it was later seen wandering near the heavily militarized border fence. The guards failed to capture the cat, but its owners must now remain in quarantine for three weeks.

And that’s all of our team for today.

Natalia Antelava is the editor-in-chief of Coda. Ramsha Jahangir is Coda’s editorial intern.

Isobel Cockerell and Mariam Kiparoidze are reporters. register here to receive the next edition of this newsletter directly to your inbox.

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