Last Updated: 14th May 2020
The interwebs are filled with many wonderful and whacky theories at the best of times. However, during a pandemic these theories can have serious health and economic impacts. Resourcing yourself with credible information from credible sources could be a significant contribution you can make to your friends and family.
Thinking it Through
We've listed a few common myths and questions below however in times of heightened mis-information, it may also be worth considering a few good principles about deciphering truth.
Fact Checking Resources
Basic tips and tricks
Mis-information gets spread online intentionally and un-intentionally. In a pandemic this can have very real health impacts. Here are a few things to consider to help hone your perspective:
- Search engines are not designed to give you the most accurate or true results. They are designed to give you the most popular results. These are two very different things.
- Social media algorithms can create confirmation bias by being designed to show you content you want to consume. News that will show up on your newsfeed will always be biased. That's not bad - it's the service they provide - it just means extra effort is required if you want a broader view.
- Check your sources and your 'experts'. In a globalised world you can find a handful of experts to support most things. Not all publications are equal, and not all experts have a good reputation in a field. Degrees from a notable university don't always make an expert. Watch out for the Dunning-Kruger effects - those speaking most confidently about a technical field are often not experts. Both pandemics, infectious diseases, medicine and health related economics are complex topics - make sure you're relying on people experienced in these specific fields.
- Experts rarely posts things for the general public. When they do post or publish, they do so in places often not frequented by the general public. For COVID-19 you can consider looking to reputable medical journal instead of online news media. Each of these have set up COVID-19 hubs on their sites. For example: The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and British Medical Journal.
- Don't believe something unless you've first given it time to be rebutted or disproven.
- Be aware of your own psychological biases and the way your ability to think gets tricked. We are all susceptible to this. Are you more likely to trust institutions more than you should? Or less likely than you should? For some fun with this you can explore www.yourbias.is
- If you really want to geek out, why not google top introductory books on Epistemology and educate yourself further.
Does 5G cause COVID-19?
Is 5G technology creating the COVID-19 virus?
Radio waves are unable to create or transmit a virus. This is something we have known for some time and nothing about the spread of COVID-19 suggests this has changed. Whilst a radio wave can have an effect on an organism, it does not have godlike powers to create or transmit an organism. We don't yet know how organisms come into existence, but we do know it's not from 5G technology.
Is the virus real or is COVID-19 a health condition caused by 5G?
Some have questioned if COVID-19 is actually a virus and not merely some other illness that might have been caused by radio waves. This has also been demonstrated to be false. COVID-19 has been physically observed under microscopes all over the world. The entity is clearly a virus of the Corona family, and analysis of its genome shows it has likely come from bats.
It's also important to consider that in order for this rumour to be true, virtually every government, laboratory, doctor and nurse would have to be in on the conspiracy. As well as long lists of universities, civil societies and multi-laterals. This seems unlikely, particularly considering there would be no motivation for these groups to fabricate this story, let alone the amount of effort and coordination that would take.
5G is a new technology so we can't know for sure it's not causing COVID-19?
Radio waves are one of the most studied areas of physics and are responsible for much of the technology we've benefited from in the 20th and 21st century. Radio waves can be classed as either ionised or non-ionised. Non-ionised radio waves are unable to ionise atoms or molecules and are considered safe. 5G fits comfortably within this non-ionised spectrum. In fact, 5G radio waves are safer than both previous 4G and 3G technologies. This is because the higher the frequency, the less it can penetrate something like your body.
Those concerned about 5G often correlate 'high frequency' with 'high danger'. But this is not necessarily true. For example visible light is an even higher frequency than 5G. This means a large 60" high powered modern TV is bombarding your body with higher frequency wavelengths than 5G and with much greater power than a 5G antenna emits. Yet TV is currently considered safe. The same is true of satellite waves. These are higher frequency than 5G and because of the distance between earth and space, are broadcast with higher power. But for decades there have been no ill effects correlated with satellites.
As with any area, there are a few scientists who have raised concerns. Yet after reviewing these concerns, so far no credible scientific body has found them valid. It's also important to recognise there's a high incentive for physicists, doctors, radiation safety organisations, universities and governments to check and double check the safety of such claims. Not only do many of these groups exist to benefit and not harm society. But they are directly effected by the results of their own findings. They have a bias to find the danger in these claims. If 5G was dangerous, or even if there was a serious hint that it could be dangerous, it is unlikely so many professionals would not speak up and knowingly allow themselves and those they love to be radiated with damaging radio waves.
But COVID-19 has showed up in the same places as 5G installations?
Infectious diseases are likely to spread through cities with higher population densities. These same cities are also likely to have the latest technology. If you were to map infectious disease spread next to cities with the latest technology, at any point in history these maps would usually look similar. When people draw conclusions from these type of comparisons, researchers refer to this as 'causation vs correlation error'. It is accurate to say that COVID-19 has a correlation to cities with 5G. But it is not accurate to say COVID-19 is caused by 5G. There is evidence for one, but not for another. The website Spurious Correlations takes a comedic look at conclusions you can form if you ignore this error. For example:
As described above, there is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 is related in any way to 5G technology. In fact, COVID-19 spread easily through countries like Japan who did not have any activated 5G. People seem to be drawing this conclusion based on fear about the new technology rather than existing evidence.
Sources:Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety AgencyWorld Health OrganizationThe proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat originGenomic characterisation and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding A Novel Coronavirus from Patients with Pneumonia in China, 2019The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2
Did COVID-19 originate in a laboratory in China?
Is it a bioweapon?
Some articles and online documentaries have suggested COVID-19 was a potential bio-weapon that escaped from a nearby lab. It is true there is a lab in Wuhan nearby. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest this is the case. Examination of the genome by labs around the world have produced no papers demonstrating COVID-19 is genetically created or manipulated. In fact, many papers have demonstrated the opposite.
There's also a logical argument against this theory. Coronaviruses are unlikely to receive any attention if the desire is to create a bioweapon. They are both too infectious and not deadly enough. Developing Coronaviruses as a weapon would likely leave someone with a weapon just as likely to cause both sides harm. Bioweapon exists, but investment in this area is focused on other approaches.
What about a lab experiment?
Another theory is the virus was made in a lab in Wuhan, not as a bio weapon, but as part of ongoing scientific research in Coronaviruses and testing on local animals. The theory suggests that because of not following appropriate safety protocols, the virus escaped and infected the local population.
There is currently no evidence to suggest this is what occurred. And a number of papers demonstrating the virus is not a product of laboratory testing.
Sources:Statement in support of the scientists and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat originGenomic characterisation and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding A Novel Coronavirus from Patients with Pneumonia in China, 2019Chinese Medical JournalFull-genome evolutionary analysis of the novel corona virus (2019-nCoV) rejects the hypothesis of emergence as a result of a recent recombination eventThe 2019‐new coronavirus epidemic: Evidence for virus evolutionReceptor Recognition by the Novel Coronavirus from Wuhan: An Analysis Based on Decade-Long Structural Studies of SARS CoronavirusCDC Situation Summary The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2Letter from the Presidents of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the United States
Can UV disinfection lamps kill COVID-19?
UV lamps should not be used to sterilise hands or other parts of the body. It won't be killing the virus but will quite possible cause you skin irritation. (source: WHO)Source: WHO
Can drinking cow urine can prevent the Coronavirus?
Experts from the World Health Organisation say there are no evidence cow urine can prevent COVID-19.Source: WHO
Are only old people at risk?
People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19. In Australia mostly young people have contracted the disease. Whilst fatality is rare in those below 60. Young ages may still need a hospital bed to recover. Recovering from the disease may also leave long term health impacts. This is a disease we're still learning about.Source: Australian Department of Health cases by gender and age
Do you have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus?
Health experts from the Medical News Today explains the longer you spend time with an infected person, the more likely you are to get infected too, but it is still possible to catch the virus within 10 minutes. (source: Medical News Today)Source: Medical News Today
Is COVID-19 just like the flu?
COVID-19 is much more serious than the flu. Some of the symptoms may be similar, but the new coronavirus is different in many ways and is much more dangerous.Source: Medical News
Is COVID-19 airborne?
The World Health Organisation has confirmed that COVID-19 is not airborne. The virus is mainly transmitted through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets will fall onto surfaces instead of hanging in the air. Maintaining a minimum of 1 metre distance from others and good hygiene is key to avoid being infected.Source: WHO
Did the outbreak begin because people ate bat soup?
Although scientists are confident that the virus started in animals, and possibly bats, there is no evidence that the outbreak started from people eating any soup of any kind.Source: Medical News Today
Are antibiotics effective to treat and prevent COVID-19?
Antibiotics do not work against any viruses, only bacteria's.Source: WHO
Can cats and dogs spread COVID-19?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is little evidence to show cats and dogs will spread the virus to humans. If you want to find out more about the risk of Coronavirus to animals, visit the CDC website.Source: US CDC
Can drinking alcohol protect you against COVID-19?
This is sadly not true. Drinking alcohol cannot protect you from getting infected, but may expose you to other potential health risks.Source: WHO
Could eating garlic help?
There is no evidence to show the effects of eating garlic to protect you from catching the virus. It might help you with social distancing though.Source: WHO
Will hand dryers kill COVID-19?
No research has shown hand dryers can affective kill the Coronavirus. Instead, you should frequently wash your hands with soap or alcohol based hand rubs and dry your hands thoroughly afterwards.Source: WHO
If I can hold my breath for at least 10 seconds without feeling discomfort, I am free from COVID-19 or any type of lung disease?
Holding your breath is not a test for the virus and other types of lung disease. The common symptoms are high fever and dry cough. If you are worried you may have been infected, seek medical advice and get tested.Source: WHO
Can parcels from China spread COVID-19?
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that the virus can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours, but the amount of the virus decreased rapidly over time on each of those surfaces. Because of its poor survivability on surfaces, parcels sent over a couple of days is unlikely to spread the virus.Source: New England Journal of Medicine
Does the pneumonia vaccine provide protection against COVID-19?
No. Vaccines against pneumonia does not provide protection against the new Coronavirus. Researchers are still working hard to develop a vaccine to cure the illness.Source: WHO
Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill COVID-19?
Appropriate amount of alcohol and Chlorine can be used to disinfect surfaces and kill the virus according to the World Health Organisation, but they couldn't kill viruses that have already entered your body. Besides, it may cause other risks to your health.Source: WHO
Can taking a hot bath prevent COVID-19?
If this is true, this will be a sad news to those who don't have access to a bathtub. The World Health Organisation stated that taking a hot bath won't stop you from catching COVID-19, and it won't change your body temperature.Source: WHO
Is taking Ibuprofen risky for COVID-19 patients?
The World Health Organization has stated there is no research showing that ibuprofen should not be taken by patients with COVID-19.Source: WHO
The virus doesn't survive in hot and humid weather right?
According to the World Health Organisation, this is untrue, as countries with hot and humid weather have also seen infected cases. Hot weather does not prevent you from the virus, but maintaining good personal hygiene and abiding to social distancing rules does.Source: WHO
Can you catch the virus through mosquito bites?
There has been no information or evidence suggesting the virus can be transmitted though mosquitos. The Coronavirus is a respiratory virus which mainly spreads through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose of an infected person. So again, maintaining good personal hygiene and self-isolate if you feel unwell is important.Source: WHO