Coronavirus (Getty)

Coronavirus: the 10 Fake News Stories

Supermarkets ransacked, psychosis and profiteering. The coronavirus emergency has thrown Italy into a psychosis, bringing out the country’s worst side. Reason has given way to fear, common sense has been ousted by selfishness and facts by sensationalism. Yesterday Antonio Borrelli, the extraordinary commissioner for the emergency, said: “Beware of fake news and consult the official channels.” To shed some light on this delicate and important issue, we decided to retrace the most important fake news about the spread of coronavirus. 

The anti-Chinese conspiracy

How did coronavirus spread? Nobody knows for sure and there are many conjectures. The least likely, however, is the idea of a bacteriological attack on China. In this respect, La Stampa reports: ‘The central thesis is that it was created by America or Israel, to cripple China and the same could happen to other states in the region. The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan calls it ‘the virus of miracles’ because ‘it leaves the US or Israel untouched’ and, like SARS, it appeared at a time of unstoppable economic expansion in China’”. To date, no one knows for sure how 2019-nCoV spread.  One of the theories points the finger at animals, but this has nothing to do with laboratories where real or alleged bacteriological weapons are produced. As the New York Times writes, coronaviruses easily affect birds and mammals. However, it is not yet clear which particular animal transmitted the disease to humans. As reported by the Higher Institute of Health, there are several theories. “The new coronavirus 2019-nCoV […] seems to have arisen in bats”, but “it is assumed that transmission did not take place directly between bats and people, but some other animal has to be identified that acted as a kind of launchpad transmitting the virus to humans.” So 2019-nCoV could have been transferred from “some species of snakes, frequently sold in the live animal markets”, or another creature: the pangolin. There are many conjectures, but they all point in the same direction: the unhygienic state of the Wuhan market. The “natural” origin of coronavirus has also been demonstrated by several scientists who published their study in The Lancet.

About animals

Coronavirus paranoia has also affected pets, singled out as possible 2019-nCoV incubators. Nothing could be less true, as stated among others by the Spallanzani National Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Higher Institute of Health and the Ministry of Health. “At the moment there is no scientific evidence that pets, such as dogs and cats, have contracted the infection or can spread it.” For the sake of completeness, here are the (basic) rules issued by the ministry: “You are recommended to wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcoholic solutions after contact with animals.”  

“Bill Gates knew …”

Obviously, Bill Gates has to be dragged into the story. It is claimed he somehow predicted (if not invoked) coronavirus. It all started with Event 201 organised by the John Hopkins University Centre for Health Security in October 2019, which simulated “an outbreak of a novel zoonotic coronavirus transmitted from bats to pigs to people that eventually becomes efficiently transmissible from person to person, leading to a severe pandemic. The pathogen and the disease it causes are modelled largely on SARS, but it is more transmissible in the community setting by people with mild symptoms.” The Center for Health Security continues: “The disease starts in pig farms in Brazil, quietly and slowly at first, but then it goes on to spread more rapidly in healthcare settings. When it starts to spread efficiently from person to person in the low-income, densely packed neighbourhoods of some of the megacities in South America, the epidemic explodes. It is first exported by air travel to Portugal, the United States, and China and then to many other countries.” In this respect, a site that has relaunched the hoax writes: “This is the disturbing scenario outlined in Event 201, a simulation that took place in October 2019 funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg and the World Economic Forum. The major players in the world’s economy took part in the exercise as actors (see video above). There is clear talk of coronavirus, with the difference that the epidemic begins in Brazil rather than in China and is spread starting from bats and pigs instead of fish.” Obviously, the Center for Health Security event had a single purpose: to theorise the (worst) scenario to try to cope with the real crises that will affect the world population in the near future. As proof that Bill Gates has nothing to do with this affair, the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping who, as reported by Ansa, said he was “deeply grateful for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s act of generosity and for the letter of solidarity received by the Chinese people at such an important moment.” The founder of Microsoft has donated $100 million for research into a coronavirus vaccine.

Coronavirus doesn’t take public transport

The subway and public transport in Milan these days are almost empty. But is it really so dangerous travel by them? The Ministry of Health writes: “On the basis of available data, it is considered highly unlikely that an infection could be passed on through the handholds on buses or the subway. But clearly we are in the middle of the influenza season. So, if symptoms such as fever, coughing, sore throat, headache and, in particular, breathing difficulties appear, it is advisable to contact your doctor. In any case, to prevent infections, including respiratory disorders, it is advisable to wash your hands frequently and carefully after touching potentially dirty objects and surfaces before touching your face, eyes or mouth.” Obviously “close contact” deserves a separate chapter, as reported by the Ministry of Health:

  • Having been in close contact (face to face) or in the same closed space with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19
  •  Having travelled by plane in the same row or in the two rows before or after a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19, among travelling companions or carers, and crew members assigned to the section of the plane where the index case was seated (if the index case has severe symptoms or has moved within the aircraft leading to greater passenger exposure, then consider all passengers seated in the same section of the aircraft or throughout the aircraft as close contacts)

Save masks for carnival

Everyone is looking for them, but not everyone has them. Masks (together with Amuchina disinfectant) have become the new fixation of the Milanese. But are they really useful? Yes, but only if you have contracted the virus (and more to protect others than for yourself). “The World Health Organisation recommends wearing a mask only if you suspect you have contracted the new coronavirus and are experiencing symptoms such as coughing or sneezing or if you look after a person with a suspected new coronavirus infection (after a recent trip to China and with respiratory symptoms). The use of the mask helps limit the spread of the virus but must be adopted in addition to other measures of respiratory hygiene and washing your hands. Wearing multiple overlapping masks is not useful.” Given the way things are, save masks for carnival.

“My friend’s husband works for the Region…”

This is the real breeding ground of idiocy and could be what sent people storming the supermarkets. It is the audio recording of a woman saying: “So … I must tell you something I heard a couple of hours ago. My friend’s husband works for the Regional Authority and she basically told me that they are getting ready to impose a quarantine on the towns around Milan and … by tomorrow they’ll decide whether on Monday or Tuesday they’ll also enforce the quarantine in Milan. So it means … all the shops will be closed! Do your shopping, stock up on supplies because if they close stores, everything will be shut for at least a month.” Nothing could be more false, of course, but rush to empty the bakeries had already started (and ended).

Fake articles to create alarmism

“The first coronavirus case is confirmed in Chioggia.” This was the headline of a fake article from, altered by goodness knows who, that started a scare in “little Venice”. A completely unfounded story that, as Andrea Indini wrote, is “a hoax of unprecedented gravity that strikes at the heart of information at a time when we have to avoid unleashing panic in the country.” The same sad fate also took over the editorial staff at the Corriere della Sera, who saw a fake article circulating which “said that the coronavirus had crossed the boundary of the Brescia area affecting two employees of the Auchan supermarket at Concesio and an elderly couple from Sarezzo, in Valtrompia.Another hoax, created to spread panic.”

No, coronavirus is not the new plague…

The threat of coronavirus has sometimes been exaggerated and compared to the worst epidemics that have plagued the world. But the facts tells us more, as the Ministry of Health explains: “Like other respiratory diseases, being infected with the new coronavirus can cause mild symptoms such as a cold, sore throat, coughing and a temperature, or more severe symptoms such as pneumonia and respiratory difficulties. It is rarely fatal.” In particular, “most people (approximately 80%) recover from the infection without any need for special treatment. About 1 in 6 people with Covid-19 fall seriously ill and develop breathing difficulties.” The mortality rate, however, is much lower than previously believed. “The WHO mission in China has ended and has made public some of its findings. It has recorded a mortality rate between 2 and 4% in Wuhan, and 0.7% outside Wuhan.” On Worldometers we find the mortality rate based on age groups ranges from 0.2% from 10 to 39 years up to 14.80% for the over 80s (as tragically demonstrated by the deaths recorded in Italy). Roberto Burioni today, in an interview in the Corriere, said: “Fear is a virus and its vaccine is information. If a child fears that there is a monster in the room, you have to turn on the light. I am the first to say that coronavirus is not a cold. But that doesn’t mean it is the plague.”   

… and it doesn’t cause male infertility

According to an article in the Thailand Medical Newswhich refers to a scientific paper that appeared online, men infected with coronavirus become infertile. Nothing could be more false, as reported by Wired: “First of all, the paper in question is available online but has not been published by any scientific journal, and has also not been subjected to peer-review. So its contents should in any case be considered with caution. Above all, the paper does not state that males become sterile due to coronavirus. It says more simply that in the most serious cases there can be damage to the tissues of the kidneys and testicles, due to both the virus and the drug-induced toxicity used to contain the symptoms. And we read that there is the possibility that the damage to testicles could be serious enough to lead to the appearance of tumours or to compromise fertility.” There could therefore be some danger, however these are only theories that have not yet been confirmed. 

“Schools closed across the country”

Several websites have reported that schools across Italy will remain closed until March 5th. Again, nothing could be more false. Only institutions in Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and Liguria have been closed and school trips have been suspended until 15 March.