The coronavirus outbreak, Covid-19, is having a significant impact on people’s lives across the globe.
It has also led to an outbreak of false information being shared across social media, as people search for reliable and up-to-date information about the spread of the disease.
Ferret Fact Service has gone through a few of the more widely-shared claims made about the virus. This article will be updated with new claims as we see them.
A video on Facebook claims that a woman had “healed herself completely without going to the hospital” using a combination of garlic, ginger, turmeric and lemon.
In the video, the woman claims she mixed the ingredients with water and then steamed her face using the mixture, which eliminated her cough.
While steam inhalation may help to soothe a cough or blocked nose there is no evidence that it will cure coronavirus, nor that this combination of natural remedies will stop Covid-19.
The World Health Organisation says there is not yet a cure or vaccine for the new coronavirus.
There have been reports that a number of people have tested positive for the virus a second time, after initially beating the disease.
Covid-19 is a new disease, so scientists are still trying to work out exactly how it develops and its characteristics.
The UK’s chief medical officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said on 16 March: “In any infectious disease there are cases where people can catch something again, they are rare. There is nothing to suggest that this is a common occurrence in this disease, but we are learning as we go along.”
The CDC said there is increasing evidence that humans do generally develop some sort of immunity after having Covid-19.
What is unknown yet is how long immunity from the new coronavirus could last.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper suggested that EU negotiator Michel Barnier could have been the ‘Patient Zero’ who infected Boris Johnson with Covid-19. ‘Patient Zero’ is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as the “first known case of a communicable disease in a particular population”.
The article suggests that “a meeting in Brussels on March 5 between Mr Barnier and David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator” led to Boris Johnson being infected.
This is misleading. There is no way to say definitively whether coronavirus was passed on to Boris Johnson by David Frost, or that Frost contracted the virus from the EU negotiator.
Later in the article, it is speculated that minister Nadine Dorries or even Prince Charles could have passed the virus on to the Prime Minister.
Rumours online suggested that all patients hospitalised with coronavirus were being asked to sign do not resuscitate forms (DNRs), also known as Do Not Attempt CPR (DNACPR) forms, which would mean them not being resuscitated should their breathing stop.
Usually the decision to not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is made by the patient themselves, if they are in the advanced stages of a terminal illness, for example. It can also be decided by the healthcare team if CPR would not prevent their death, or if the person cannot contribute to the decision. This is then done where possible with the input of the close loved ones.
The Scottish Government confirmed there had been no change in the use of such documents, and that in situations requiring “difficult conversations with people and their families regarding their care wishes, they should be handled with care and tact”.
Are GPs sending out rescue packs?
For those who have impaired immune systems or are living with long-term conditions, the Covid-19 crisis has been extremely difficult.
Advice shared on social media said people with respiratory conditions such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma can get ‘rescue packs’ from GPs to provide emergency supplies of drugs to aid with breathing, should you suffer symptoms associated with Covid-19.
The post claims you will receive “a 5 day supply of a corticosteroid (prednisolone) and a 5 day supply of an antibiotic (usually amoxicillin or doxycycline) which can be started immediately if you develop any breathing issues”.
The Scottish Government confirmed these packs are generally available to patients who “are identified as being at risk of frequent exacerbations” in their condition’s symptoms. These are agreed as part of a self-management plan, and are not being released widely to deal with the symptoms of Covid-19.
Is the government offering people money via text messages?
On Tuesday 24 March, a text message alert was sent from the UK Government to all mobile phone users in the UK giving advice on new rules in force to keep people inside their homes.
Some people reported receiving another message seemingly from the UK government stating that a payment of £458 would be given to all residents “as part of its promise to battle Covid-19”.
The text message then has a link which you can tap to apply for the payment.
This is not from the UK government. It is a scam which directs to a realistic-looking website which attempts to gather personal and financial details.
The UK government has announced support for workers who are impacted by the coronavirus lockdown.
The French health minister tweeted that anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and cortisone “could be an aggravating factor of the infection”.
This led to many media outlets reporting that the popular painkiller was dangerous to take if someone is experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
The NHS says there is “currently no strong evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can make coronavirus (COVID-19) worse”.
But they recommend taking paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, until further evidence is gathered.
A meme doing the rounds on social media suggested that Nicola Sturgeon met Scotland’s first Covid-19 patient and immediately afterwards attended a Cabinet Office briefing room (Cobra) meeting with Boris Johnson to discuss the crisis.
The Scottish Government said this claim was false. The First Minister did not meet with the first coronavirus patient in Scotland, instead issuing a statement wishing them a “speedy recovery”.
Will any mask be effective at stopping Covid-19?
The question of whether masks are effective against coronavirus has been debated throughout the crisis. One widely shared post claims that the coronavirus is “quite large” in size, so any mask will stop it.
The post claims that the Covid-19 particles are “about 400-500 nano-metres (nm) in diameter”.
This is not correct. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control, as well as a study of the virus in Chinese patients published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the virus particles ranged from “about 60 to 140 nm”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that masks alone will not prevent Covid-19, and must be combined with other measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has not recommended masks for those who are not ill.
Does a picture show a Glasgow venue turned into a hospital?
An image being shared in the Glasgow area claimed to show the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), formerly known as the SECC, with hospital beds set up. It does not.
The picture actually shows the Ifema exhibition complex in Madrid, which is set up to cater for Spanish patients during the pandemic.
Can the virus last for nine days on metal surfaces?
Advice on how long Covid-19 can last on surfaces has been regularly shared across social media.
One widely shared claim recommends that you “wash metallic surfaces carefully as the virus can survive up to nine days”.
Studies on similar viruses such as Sars and Mers found they can survive on metal, glass and plastic for up to nine days.
However, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine on COVID-19 found the virus survives for a shorter time.
It found the virus can survive up to “four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel”.
It is known the virus can spread through surfaces, so experts recommend that people keep all surfaces clean, and the Center for Disease Control suggests you “clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily”.
Should you gargle disinfectant to stop the virus?
One of many inaccurate health tips being widely circulated during the pandemic is that a disinfectant solution could be effective at killing Covid-19.
The World Health Organisation has said there is currently no cure, and has not recommended using a disinfectant mouthwash.
There is no evidence that a disinfectant solution is effective against Covid-19 and gargling with a homemade solution could be dangerous if swallowed.
One of the main symptoms of Covid-19 is a persistent cough. Many people are suffering a so-called ‘dry cough’ or non-productive cough, where no phlegm is brought up.
Some widely shared posts on social media claim that only a dry cough is a coronavirus symptom, and if you are suffering a ‘wet cough’, you do not have the virus.
However, the WHO’s report on Covid-19 patients in China found 33.4 per cent having saliva and mucus production from a cough.
Russia has reported relatively few Covid-19 cases and, as yet, no deaths have been officially linked to the virus.
This has led to questions about why the country of 146 million people has fewer cases than many smaller European nations.
One widely shared image claimed that after an order by President Putin, lions had been released upon Russian streets to make sure people respected instructions to stay indoors.
This is clearly false. The image appears to be in the style of Sky News, but in fact comes from a website called breakyourownnews.com. This is a website which allows you to create images with whatever text or image you want in the style of a rolling news headline.
There are further clues to show it is not real, particularly the misspelling of Vladimir.
The image itself is actually from a film shoot that took place in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016.
Are zinc tablets a “silver bullet” against the virus?
A post written by respected pathologist James Robb was the source for a viral image claiming that zinc lozenges were a “silver bullet” against Covid-19.
The doctor had in fact recommended zinc lozenges as he believes them to be effective against similar diseases to the novel coronavirus. However, it has not been tested against Covid-19 and Robb has sought to downplay the comments. He said using the tablets as directed by the packaging “is no guarantee against being infected by the virus”.
The WHO, CDC and NHS have said there is currently no cure for Covid-19 and have not recommended zinc tablets.
Have army “quarantine team” vehicles been spotted on UK roads?
An image purporting to show an army vehicle on the UK’s M25 motorway near London with “Covid-19 quarantine team” on the side has been widely shared online.
It has been shared alongside rumours of an imminent lockdown for the UK, similar to those in France and Spain, where people will be required to stay in their homes.
There are numerous clues that this image is photoshopped, including the lettering’s pixelation, which suggests it was digitally added to the original image. The car also appears to be driving on the right side of the road, which would suggest it was photographed outside the UK.
The vehicle shown is what is known as a Humvee, which experts at UK Defence Journal confirmed to Ferret Fact Service was not a vehicle used by the British military.
The image has also been claimed to be taken in Ohio in the US, and UK Defence Journal suggested it was likely a US National Guard vehicle.
Did people in the UK get the virus unknowingly in November and December?
A Facebook post widely shared claims that people in the UK who got ill in November or December 2019, actually had caught Covid-19.
The post reads “Who got sick in November or December and it lasted 10 to 14 days,🙋♀️ with the worst cough that wouldn’t go away?🙋♀️ it was horrible! If you can answer yes, then you probably had the coronavirus.”
This is inaccurate. The first known case of Covid-19 appears to have occurred in China in November 2019. The virus was first diagnosed in the UK on 31 January 2020.
A virus which was contracted in November or December 2019 was not coronavirus as it had not reached the UK at this time.
The WHO has said that drinking alcohol does not protect you from the Covid-19 virus, and warned against drinking more than in moderation. Drinking too much could affect your immune system, leaving you more likely to pick up viruses.
A video has been shared widely on Whatsapp with a doctor suggesting a novel form of home remedy to kill off the Covid-19 virus.
It claims that Covid-19 cannot survive in hot temperatures, and advises spending time in a sauna or even directing a hairdryer up your nose to increase the temperature in your nose and sinus cavity.
This is inaccurate information.
The video, presented by Dr Dan Lee Dimke, claims that viruses “live and reproduce only within the coolest areas of the body… the nose and sinus cavity”. This is false.
Viruses work by affecting cells and “using these cells to multiply and produce other viruses”. The heat of your nasal cavity will not kill off such a virus.
Covid-19 has yet no known cure, although scientists are working on it, and no medical professional would advocate using a hairdryer or sauna to kill coronavirus.
Dr Dan Lee Dimke is not a medical doctor. His website claims he achieved a doctorate in education. He appears to have written numerous books on pseudo-science, decision making, and wealth generation among others.
The ten-second breathing test
Widely shared posts suggest that doctors in Taiwan had developed a way for people to test whether they have the virus.
It suggests that people should “take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds.” If this is possible without coughing, stiffness, discomfort or tightness, the post claims there is no infection.
This is not accurate. The claim suggests it works because those with Covid-19 symptoms will have “50 per cent fibrosis and it’s too late”.
Fibrosis is a condition where someone’s lungs become scarred, making breathing increasingly difficult.
Numerous experts have debunked the claim that the breathing test will identify Covid-19. Many people will be able hold their breath even with the condition, as it can have differing levels of symptoms.
Fibrosis is possible with Covid-19, but will only develop in the minority of patients.
Is the virus killed by heat at 27 degrees?
Many have claimed that Covid-19 is not heat resistant, with one post suggesting it “will be killed by a temperature of just 26-27 degrees. It hates the sun”.
The Center for Disease Control has said that it is not yet known how the virus will be impacted by warmer weather. Some viruses such as the common cold and flu spread more commonly during colder winter months, but you can still get them at any time.
The WHO stated on March 5 that there is “no reason to believe that this virus would behave differently in different temperatures”.
The reference to “26-27 degrees” killing Covid-19 is not supported by any evidence.
Readers have reported hearing that you can be protected from Covid-19 if you have received the pneumonia vaccine.
This is likely due to a misunderstanding of the difference between pneumonia and the novel coronavirus called Covid-19.
Researchers are currently working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, but there is not yet one available.
Was the outbreak caused by 5G?
The rollout of 5G, the latest generation of superfast wireless mobile internet, has been at the centre of a number of debates over its safety.
A post on Facebook connected the roll-out of 5G to the coronavirus outbreak. It claims that Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, was one of the first places that 5G was rolled out, and suggests the technology had “wrecked immune systems”,“boosted the virulency of the common cold” and that the coronavirus in Wuhan, China was “sickness from exposure to excessive 5G radiation”.
It was posted in an UK anti-5G Facebook group, and has been shared hundreds of times.
While it’s true that parts of Wuhan have got 5G coverage, there is no evidence linking this to the Covid-19 outbreak, or that 5G can damage the immune system.
The World Health Organisation has stated that “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies” and anticipated “no consequences for public health” from the rollout of 5G technology.
Like previous generations 2G, 3G and 4G, the mobile data is transmitted over radio waves. 5G uses slightly higher frequencies than earlier mobile networks. It is widely considered to be ‘non-ionising’ which means it is not able to directly damage the DNA inside cells, however some have suggested long-term exposure to such frequencies could be linked to various health problems.
The post’s suggestion that coronavirus is a common cold with boosted virulence is without foundation. Coronavirus is the name for a family of viruses ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The current Covid-19 outbreak is a new disease in this family first identified in people in Hubei province in China.
Can these home remedies work?
Vitamin C pills have been suggested as a way to stop the virus, with one Facebook personality suggesting “the coronavirus pandemic can be stopped with the immediate widespread use of high doses of Vitamin C”.
According to the WHO, NHS, and Center for Disease Control there is no vaccine or specific medication to prevent Covid-19.
Experts say the best way to avoid contracting the virus is lack of exposure. The NHS recommends washing hands more regularly with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Garlic has also been claimed as effective against Covid-19, with posts on social media saying it can prevent infection with the disease. The WHO says that while garlic is healthy and has some microbial properties, there is no evidence to suggest it is effective against the new coronavirus.
Is regularly drinking water effective?
A number of posts have spread similar but incorrect advice about ways to stop or lessen coronavirus. One such remedy is drinking water every 15 minutes.
This advice allegedly from “Japanese doctors treating Covid-19 cases” suggests people should make sure they are drinking water every 15 minutes to avoid their mouth and throat going dry. This, the posts claim, is because even if the virus gets into your throat it will be washed down into your stomach where stomach acids will kill it.
This has been refuted by the WHO, who said that while staying hydrated is important for overall health, it does not prevent Covid-19 infection.
Is Dettol proven to kill Covid-19?
NHS advice on slowing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak focuses on people washing their hands regularly, particularly when you get home from or arrive at work, after you blow your nose or cough, eat or handle food. They recommend using soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Posts across social media have suggested that one particular brand of anti-bacterial cleaner had been tested against coronavirus in 2019.
A viral image of the back of a Dettol bottle shows text saying Dettol ‘anti-bacterial surface cleanser’ is proven to kill bacteria including “human coronavirus”.
The post is misleading, and stems from a misunderstanding of what ‘coronavirus’ actually refers to. While the term coronavirus has been taken up in media reports to refer to the current outbreak, it actually covers a family of viruses including SARS and the common cold. The current outbreak is actually being called Covid-19 and is a new type of coronavirus not previously seen in humans.
Dettol has not tested their onsale products against Covid-19, although the company claims it has shown effectiveness in similar viruses.
It is important to note that the primary way Covid-19 spreads is through “respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing” when people are in close contact, rather than via surfaces. Using disinfectant to keep surfaces clean is still recommended, however.
Fact check updated to 02 April 2020.
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