A few days after South Africa began its nationwide lockdown, the health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize tweeted a warning to the citizens of the republic to beware of fake news.
Watch out for fake news- 5G & coronavirus: 5G is a technology issue and Covid is a virus. You cannot link the virus to technology.
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) March 31, 2020
He would go on to say that during this time we must tell the truth to prevent the spread. Since then, the spread of false information about the coronavirus is matched only by the spread of the virus itself.
Hyperbole aside, in these unprecedented times, we must seek protection in facts. We can see the havoc that buying into and absorbing false information can cause with our very eyes.
Two weeks ago, over 50 cell towers were torched in the UK – the reason? People began to believe 5G was linked to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many of the towers attacked were not even 5G enabled.
Previously, false information spread as the gospel truth could be cast aside with ease. We could all laugh at flat-earthers, or tut in disbelief for the children of anti-vaxxers. Now, myths are dangerous for thousands.
Jason Shepherd, a Ph.D. and Associate Professor of Neurobiology, from the University of Utah has seemingly had enough of what he calls “crackpot theories that go from man-made viruses to spread of infections via 5G cell phone towers.”
He believes that the longer people are kept at home, the more they will go from rational people seeking reliable sources of information to those that cling to any sort of conspiracy or myth about this pandemic.
“This pandemic is stressful enough without people confabulating nonsense!” Shepherd says. Indeed, Shepherd would know fake news when he hears it. He runs a research lab at the University of Utah that seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms of memory and brain plasticity and has studied the links between memory and (surprisingly) viruses in the past.
Shepherd joins with The Startup in debunking the 8 most common myths told about the novel coronavirus in the hopes that rational people will find the information valuable.
The 8 most common myths about COVID-19 are:
- The novel coronavirus was around before November 2019.
The first documented cases of COVID-19 were in China, in late November/early December 2019.
Scientists are able to track the origins of viruses by sequencing their genetic material. Over time, viruses accumulate mutations that make them identifiable. Think of family trees and tracing genetic mutations, this is very similar.
2. The virus is man-made – manufactured in a laboratory.
Scientists can compare the sequence of the new virus with other known viruses and determine how similar it is. The most similar virus found to COVID-19 is another coronavirus found in bats. These differences between the viruses occur through natural evolution.
There are literally billions of viruses, all with different hosts and life-cycles. Some mutations allow those viruses to jump into new hosts.
So far we understand that COVID-19 originated in bats and maybe another intermediate host. Current hypotheses discuss that this jump from bats to the intermediate probably happened in a wild animal market in Wuhan.
In addition, the interaction between the virus spike protein (that make the “crown” of proteins that stick out from the balloon-like membrane) and the human receptor ACE2, which allows the virus to get into human cells, is something that would be extremely hard to engineer given the knowledge at the time.
3. The numbers and models, usually produced by governments and health organizations, are deliberately misleading people.
COVID-19 is a brand new virus that was previously unknown prior to December 2019. The good news for us is that it is similar to the previously known coronaviruses SARS and MERS.
Rates of infection and mortality were previously unknown by that point. Scientists use models to refine their ideas but no one model is correct. If some details from trusted sources are incorrect, that is because scientists are actively learning about the virus to this day, and probably will continue for the foreseeable future.
“Science isn’t magic,” Shepherd writes, “…the more we know about the virus and how it works, infects people, etc. the better the model.”
Conversely, epidemiologists can study past and current data to INFER what will happen in the future. All models point to social distancing as a means to stop the spread and indeed this is working.
So no. There is no conspiracy by doctors or scientists to control numbers. While there are many governments around the world, especially those headed by despots, who are producing propaganda about their own control of the virus, there are good – reliable sources for information.
4. COVID-19 is just the flu.
Apart from the proven differences between the two diseases, and the fact that they present with different symptoms. As new information about the death rate of the virus is discovered, we have come to understand that the novel coronavirus could have a more severe impact, long-term, than the annual influenza season.
To get a better handle on the differences between seasonal flu and COVID-19, a comparison between the average number of weekly deaths due to the flu and deaths due to COVID-19 in New York State shows just how different the two viruses can be.
5. Bill Gates is the COVID Antichrist.
When he announced that he was going to help develop a COVID vaccine, the uproar was tangible. Assertions ranged from “Gates wants to kill people with the vaccine” and “Gates patented the new virus” to “Gates knew about the virus before the Chinese.” None of this is true.
Thinking critically, these myths about Gates don’t even make logical sense. The richest man on Earth gave up running a cash-cow company to devote all his time to a foundation that is dedicated to public health. Gates won’t profit off of a new vaccine, and as Shepherd says, “he isn’t some Bond villain orchestrating a master plan!”
6. The virus is spread by 5G cell towers.
Shepherd reiterates that “First, 5G is just as safe as 4G. And 4G is just as safe as your home microwave. Second, a virus cannot be spread by cell phone towers because viruses, you know, only infect living things.”
IT News Africa has covered this topic in length. The bottom line? No, 5G has nothing to do with the novel coronavirus. Please stop burning cell towers.
7. Health care workers and scientists aren’t working to save lives.
There are accusations abound that scientists manufactured the virus or that they are covering up for big pharma companies. To this, Shepherd says “We are not paid off by the government or big pharma! We really just want to help people.”
Health workers are putting their lives on the line under challenging conditions. Scientists are racing to find treatments and produce a vaccine. These are the people in the front lines of the pandemic. They deserve, at the very least, some trust and respect.
8. Herd Immunity works better than a vaccine.
A favourite of anti-vaxxers, who are now claiming that herd immunity is better than having a vaccine.
Herd immunity is when enough people have recovered from the virus to then be immune and cannot reinfect other people or get sick. Now, there’s a lot of uncertainty of how well or how long people recovering from COVID-19 will be immune, but ultimately the only way to control the pandemic is through herd immunity. However, natural herd immunity will need at least 70% of the total population to be immune.
Luckily, vaccines accelerate herd immunity without killing people by inducing antibody production that can kill the virus, the same kind of antibody response people achieve after recovering from an infection.
Edited by Luis Monzon
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