- in Science
Six months since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, false claims continue to circulate on social media.
Here’s our latest round-up of some of the most widely shared.
Science Claim: Test kits for ‘Covid-19’ were being exported before the outbreak
Verdict: A database of worldwide shipments of chemical supplies created in 2020, but going back to 2015, did refer to their use for “Covid-19 kits”. The World Bank, one of the international organisations responsible for maintaining the list, says this was because these previously existing products are now being used for Covid-19 testing. The website has now been changed and a clarification issued.
The claim on social media – a persistent one among conspiracy theorists – is that this is evidence the pandemic was planned all along, and the World Bank knew about it. This is false and we can settle any doubts about what’s going on.
The screenshot being shared is genuine and includes trade information under the heading “COVID-19 Test kits exports by country in 2017”. Other pages show earlier years with similar data. So you can understand why this might have caused some confusion.
According to the World Bank, the page was created in April 2020 to make it easier to find all of the previously existing products that are now being used for Covid-19 testing.
All the chemical products listed on the site have had other uses for many years, but the World Bank says they were re-categorised to ease the tracking of items that are particularly important to tackle the coronavirus.
From 7 September the title of the database was changed to “medical test kits”, and to avoid further misunderstanding includes a disclaimer that says “the data here track previously existing medical devices that are now classified by the World Customs Organization as critical to tackling Covid-19.”
The claims of a conspiracy seem to have emerged on social media late last week and have since spread across multiple platforms and languages.
Although the allegations appeared on Twitter and Facebook almost simultaneously, they only gained traction after a UK-based user on Facebook published a video pointing out the alleged discrepancy in the test kit data on 5 September.
Links and screenshots of the database then spread more widely on Facebook and Twitter, and also appeared on Reddit, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The claims have also crossed over into other languages, including Dutch, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and Hebrew.
Science Claim: Infrared thermometers harm the brain
Verdict: False. These devices are not dangerous.
The sight of someone having their temperature checked using a thermometer pointed at the forehead is fairly common these days.
These thermometers record a person’s temperature by measuring infrared radiation from the surface of the body.
A high temperature is an indication of possible coronavirus infection.
A video posted on YouTube with 2 million views falsely claims this process is dangerous. It is not and there’s a simple explanation why.
The thermometer records the infrared radiation coming off the body – the surfaces of all objects emit this type of radiation – but nothing is fired at the person.
The man presenting the video describes the concerns of an unnamed “Australian nurse”, and refers specifically to the potential harm done to the pineal gland.
This is deep inside the brain and controls a hormone called melatonin. The man calls it the “gateway to the spirit realm”.
But there’s no way the pineal gland would be harmed or could be “targeted” by a thermometer.
“They just pick up your infrared radiation. They’re not shooting anything,” says Stafford Lightman, a professor of medicine at Bristol University.
As for the claim that it’s safer and more effective to measure temperature at the wrist, Prof Lightman says it isn’t.
He explains that your limbs get cold and the blood supply to the wrists – unlike to the face – can be quite variable so it isn’t a good place to take a temperature.
Science Claim: Eating llama meat can help fight coronavirus
Verdict: There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Ineffective and unproven Covid-19 treatments have been touted online since the beginning of the pandemic, and in some cases, they’ve even been promoted by leading politicians.
This one however is new to us. One of Peru’s regional governors has suggested that eating llama and alpaca meat could help fight off coronavirus.
According to a Peruvian radio station, the governor cited studies indicating that llamas and alpacas carry antibodies which could potentially be modified to develop a Covid-19 treatment.
The BBC science team reported on this research a while back, but these studies do not conclude that eating the animals’ meat could help a person combat the virus. Scientists instead found that the llama’s antibodies could possibly be adapted to make a therapy for humans.
So far, the only drugs that have been proven to save lives in clinical trials are dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.
Science Claim: A homeopathic medicine, arsenicum album, can help prevent coronavirus
Verdict: There is no scientific evidence to support the use of this homeopathic medicine to protect against Covid-19.
India’s ministry for alternative medicine, Ayush, has promoted the use of a homeopathic medicine, arsenicum album-30, claiming it can help prevent people from contracting coronavirus.
There are however no peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting its use as a preventative treatment for Covid-19.
Recently, the Indian PTI news agency reported that the western state of Gujarat had distributed the medicine to more than half of the state’s population as a preventative treatment.
A top health official in the state said she believed in “some effectiveness” of the medicine against coronavirus, but admitted that “to actually establish this, we need more rigorous analysis”.
There is no evidence that the medicine is effective, either in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19.
Additional reporting by Olga Robinson, Alistair Coleman and Upasana Bhat.