11 myths and conspiracy theories around coronavirus debunked

George Martin
·5-min read
Tourist in Piazza Duomo during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in Milan, Italy on Mar. 2, 2020. (Photo by Claudio Furlan - LaPresse/Sipa USA)
Tourists wearing facemasks in Milan (PA)

Since the coronavirus outbreak began late last year, several myths and conspiracy theories have begun swirling online.

Often shared widely on social media, many promote bizarre and ineffective treatment methods they claim can cure the disease.

While some even speculate that coronavirus may have been created by the Chinese government.

The virus has so far been detected in at least 70 countries with 90,000 cases and 3,100 deaths. Here are some of the most widely shared fallacies about the outbreak, according to AFP Factcheck.

1. China created the virus in a lab

Several theories circulated online have suggested the disease may have been created as a biological weapon by the Chinese government.

But the Russian ministry of health and a team of 27 health experts from outside of China later refuted the claims.

The health experts said in a statement in The Lancet: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.”

All masks sold out at this Ace Hardware in Portland, Ore., on March 2, 2020. There are currently three presumptive cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state, and people have been buying up supplies across the city. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA)
Face masks sold out in Portland, Oregon (Sipa USA)

2. The virus was caused by 5G

According to fact-checking website FullFact, one conspiracy theory suggests that a 5G mobile network may have caused the coronavirus outbreak by damaging peoples’ immune systems.

The city of Wuhan in China, the centre of the new coronavirus outbreak, has a 5G network - but scientists have found no link between the new coronavirus and 5G.

Public Health England has previously said there is no “convincing evidence” that 5G adversely affects peoples’ health.

3. A runny nose isn’t a symptom

Multiple posted on social media suggested that a runny nose and sputum secretion are not symptoms of coronavirus.

The posts claim the disease presents itself as “a dry cough without runny nose”.

Medical authorities in China, the US and the World Health Organization (WHO), however, have listed both as possible signs of the disease.

4. Vitamin D protects against coronavirus

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube posts claim vitamin D can help reduce the risk of infection.

While vitamin D from sunlight can help boost the immune system, taking supplements cannot help protect against coronavirus.

Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, head of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Center at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said: “Statements that claim Vitamin D can prevent coronavirus or other viral infections are not true.

5. Anti-malaria drugs have cured thousands

A Nigerian newspaper published an article which claimed that “12,552 patients in China” had been cured by anti-malarials.

The China National Center for Biotechnology Development confirmed the drug has “a certain curative effect on the novel coronavirus” but did not say it cured 12,552 patients.

The drug has reportedly only been used in clinical trials with “over 100 patients”.

6. Black people are less susceptible

Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim that a Cameroonian man living in China was cured of the novel coronavirus “because he has black skin”.

A Cameroonian student was successfully treated for the illness, but doctors claim there is “no scientific evidence” to suggest black people have a better chance of fighting the virus.

“Ethnicity and genetics have no influence on recovery from the virus, and black people don’t have more antibodies than white people,” Professor Amadou Alpha Sall, director of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, told AFP.

7. Dettol products can kill Covid-19

Images published on Facebook appear to show Dettol cleaning products being used to eradicate the risk of coronavirus.

While Dettol products can be used to cure other strains of coronavirus which are more closely related to the common cold, they may not work on the Covid-19 strain.

FullFact reports that Dettol says it has not tested its products on the new virus since it “is not yet available for commercial testing.”

8. China euthanised over 20,000 patients

A fake article circulated on social media claimed the Chinese government sought approval from the country’s Supreme Court to have 20,000 patients killed to stop coronavirus spreading.

The China’s Supreme People’s Court has never held a hearing on such a case and the websites which shared the article have frequently been accused of spreading “fake news”.

An employee wearing protective gear reads a newspaper at a restaurant only offering take-out orders following the coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, Sunday, March 1, 2020. Amid fears about where the next outbreak of a fast-spreading new virus would appear, infections and deaths continued to rise across the globe Sunday, emptying streets of tourists and workers, shaking economies and rewriting the realities of daily life. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A man wearing a mask at a restaurant in China (AP)

9. Drinking water can prevent coronavirus

Facebook posts shared thousands of times in various countries claim that drinking water can prevent coronavirus.

Many posts present the information as “health bulletins” from the officials in Canada or the Philippines.

However, authorities have issued no such advice.

10. Chinese spies stole the disease from Canada

Websites and social media users claim that the new coronavirus discovered in the city of Wuhan may have been created in Canada and stolen by Chinese spies.

Kyle Bass, a US hedge fund manager, falsely claimed on Twitter that a “Chinese spy team” sent pathogens “to the Wuhan facility” in a post that was retweeted 12,000 times.

However, the Canadian health and federal police officials say it has no factual basis.

11. Heat can kill the virus

Misleading posts appearing in several places online claim that “drinking warm water” and going “under the sunlight” are effective preventive practices.

One post also states that “coronavirus is not heat resistant and can be killed in high temperatures”.

But there is so far no conclusive evidence to suggest that sunlight kills the virus or that the virus would be less infectious in rising temperatures - according to the World Health Organization.