National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz has drawn criticism and accusations of colonial attitudes after presenting himself without a mask in Ethiopia and explaining that face coverings and social distancing weren’t necessary because of the stronger immune systems of rural Ethiopians.
Steinmetz posted a photograph to his Instagram of himself flying a drone surrounded by a crowd of local people in rural Ethiopia, explaining that operating a UAV always draws a crowd. “I finally gave up on masks and social distance, as it became clear that rural Ethiopians have much stronger immune systems than people in the industrialized world,” Steinmetz explained. “Or maybe it’s just the abundance of fresh air and tropical sunlight in this ancient land,” he continued, before signing off by saying, “Me no know,” as though imitating someone with a poor grasp of English.
As pointed out by photographer Chirag Wakaskar, Ethiopia was given a Level 4 Travel Advisory by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August last year. Steinmetz stated in the comments to his Instagram post that he was tested for COVID-19 before departure and upon arrival in Ethiopia and, without any scientific basis, stated that “my guess is that the rural population here is relatively immune.”
Following criticism, Steinmetz deleted the post from his feed. He responded to a tweet by apologizing that the post came across as insensitive and inappropriate, but not for putting Ethiopians at risk, nor for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
Steinmetz responded to enquiries but did not offer comment.
Lead image by Peter Linforth