As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, so does misinformation, fear, fake cures and malicious hoaxes.
And to make things worse, people are readily sharing false information without first fact-checking. News24 has been inundated with calls and messages from well-meaning members of the public who have “information” about government cover-ups and outbreaks of the coronavirus at local hospitals. None turned out to be true.
In addition, Dettol, bleach and garlic, among other things, are touted as “cures” for the novel coronavirus, which has been named SARS-CoV-2, or Covid-19, since its breakout in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year.
This is because Covid-19 is a new strain of coronaviruses that have been around for ages. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds.
The first case of the coronavirus in South Africa was confirmed on Thursday. It was contracted by a local who returned from a trip to Italy and began experiencing symptoms three days after returning.
In humans, coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that are typically mild, such as the common cold, though rarer forms such as SARS, MERS, and Covid-19 can be lethal.
Not all coronaviruses are SARS-CoV-2
Coronaviruses are believed to cause 15% to 30% of all common colds in adults and children.
So, just because you may have a coronavirus, it’s unlikely to be the new strain, or novel, coronavirus.
Kate Wilkinson, deputy chief editor at Africa Check, there are a number of misconceptions about Covid-19.
“The types of misinformation that we receive about Covid-19 fall into four main categories: false information about cures; about vaccines; about the extent of the problem; and the different steps that governments are taking around the world to deal with it.”
While there is still no known cure, Wilkinson says there have been plenty hoax messages about preventative measures that are readily being shared across social media platforms.
Garlic, bleach and Dettol won’t help
“We’ve seen everything – if you can think of a plant or a medicine, there is probably a message online saying it can cure or prevent Covid-19. Lately, we debunked a message saying garlic taken in large quantities can help prevent the virus or cure it. There is no evidence that this is true. I do think, though, if you did take that much garlic people wouldn’t want to be near you!”
According to Wilkinson, there have also been a number of “scary messages” about drinking or using bleach products to combat the virus.
“This is not going to help. In fact, consuming bleach products can be incredibly harmful and make you very sick and could in some cases even lead to death.”
On its website, Africa Check also debunked a claim that Dettol products are effective against Covid-19. While Dettol products have shown to be effective against certain strains of coronavirus, the 2019 ‘novel’ coronavirus has not yet been tested against Dettol products.
Wilkinson reiterated the need to distinguish between Covid-19 and other coronavirus strains.
“Coronaviruses have been around for many years in many different forms. Hopefully, calling the new strain by its name, Covid-19, will help people differentiate between the latest virus and other viruses. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this issue.”
Using the viral Dettol message as an example, Wilkinson said it led to conspiracy theories and speculation that Dettol knew about the new virus and had been able to prepare their products, which was simply untrue.
‘There is no cure… as yet”
While Africa Check has seen a lot of false information about vaccines and cures for Covid-19, none of these currently exist.
“Earlier this year we saw a news article that went viral and got a lot of traction about a ‘vaccine’ that had supposedly been developed and tested at a university in Ghana, but that turned out to be a completely false story.”
Wilkinson had the following advice: “If you see any information about cures or vaccines, first check the World Health Organisation’s website where they have a section dedicated to SARS-CoV-2 with all the latest information.
“They also have a great section where they debunk false information and hoaxes.
“We have to acknowledge that people are scared, but we can make sure that that fear doesn’t affect the decisions they make, and that includes the information that they share. If you receive a message on WhatsApp or you see something on Facebook about the novel coronavirus, don’t share it if you’re not 100% sure that it’s accurate. Sharing false information can mislead people. We’re talking about people’s health – all our decisions about our health should be based on accurate information.”
Wilkinson said people can send suspicious messages or information to Africa Check via Twitter, or receive a free message every Friday called What’s Crap on WhatsApp? by sending a message to 082 709 3527.
According to the WHO, to date there have been 90 870 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Outside China, 10 566 people have been confirmed infected. More than 3 000 people have so far died from Covid-19.