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Fake news and false claims inflame Covid-19 panic

Fake news stories about coronavirus are all over social media - and even some news sources. Here are some that are trending, but spot them yourselves...

Did you know Covid-19 was caused by 5G? That drinking water flushes the virus into your stomach to be killed by stomach acid? That garlic stops infection? That you are not infected if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds? That all “made in China” products are infected?

They are all lies... this is fake news, and such gossip is being spread all over social media and elsewhere, with few people bothering to check for truth.

The 5G story started on a UK Facebook group and was soon shared hundreds of times... but its claims that 5G was first rolled out in Wuhan, where the virus was discovered, are false.

The water story is very common. It says drinking water every 15 minutes will flush the virus “down the throat and into the stomach. Once there, stomach acid will kill the virus. If you don’t drink enough water regularly, the virus can enter your windpipe and then the lungs. That’s very dangerous.”

It claims this discovery was made at Stanford University, but a simple online search shows the university has issued no such findings.

As for garlic… while it may have antimicrobial properties, there is no evidence that eating it protects you from Covid-19.

The “10-second breath test” is convincing, as Covid-19 affects the lungs... but it is false, as many people with the virus can hold their breath.

With China being the source of the virus, the story that all items from China are infected sounds plausible, but its claim that the virus lives on surfaces for 28 days is unlikely, given shipping conditions and the fact that other viruses do not.

Plus, with France at level 3, the highest level of disease control and prevention, rumours of a “level 4” have started to spread, with claims that it means even tougher quarantine being brought in. While level 4 does exist, it means the opposite of what many internet users suggest.

It does not mean a tougher form of lockdown is on the way: it means the start of a return to normal life.

Stage 4 (Stade 4, in French) will happen when France goes below the epidemic threshold determined by the public health agency InVS. It means the start of the end of some of the anti-virus measures.

The transition to the last stage does not guarantee the end of the pandemic, however, as the authorities are ready for a possible new wave in the weeks, months, or years to come.

French public health body Inserm has posted a video online warning against fake Covid-19 news

And the health ministry regularly posts fact-checking messages on social media claims – including one that cocaine cures Covid-19 - it does not protect against the virus. It is an addictive drug that causes serious side-effects that are harmful to people’s health.

It also corrected claims about handling money, saying the risk of infection from touching coins, banknotes or credit cards is very low.

The best protection is to wash your hands frequently.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has set up a web page correcting many false claims about coronavirus – because false stories spread across the globe even faster than the virus.

Here is how to spot fake news for yourself...

First, check the source – or, indeed, that there is a verifiable source. A link to a trustworthy organisation has more weight than a claim attributed to “a doctor I know” or a “researcher on a group fighting the Covid-19 pandemic”.

A quick internet search might say if a story is true or not, or look up verifiable sources, such as the official site.

If it is not being reported by reputable outlets, be wary.

Look more closely at photos... recent pictures of military vehicles supposedly heading to shut the M25 to lock down London had vehicles on the wrong side of the road.

  • But not everything on social media should be ignored... people have found humour in the lockdown, saying:
    "Our grandparents were asked to go to war. We’re asked to stay on our sofas."
  • "A thought for Chronopost delivery workers who will no longer be able to say nobody is at home."
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