As of 28 January 2018, 132 people have died in China from the coronavirus, whilst 5,974 are currently infected. There have been confirmed cases of China’s coronavirus in 16 countries, including USA, Australia, Germany, etc. However, there are no cases of death elsewhere, except China. China’s Wuhan is believed to be the centre of coronavirus outbreak, which was reportedly spread from an illegally sold wildlife at one of city’s markets. Currently, strict safety measures are imposed throughout Wuhan.
Countries take specific type of measures to safeguard against spread of the coronavirus, whilst fight against the virus remains at the forefront of international agenda. It is only natural, that public takes strong interest towards that issue in Georgia too. Coronavirus has also become one of the topics of spreading the false information.
Disinformation about Identifying the Coronavirus in Georgia
On 28 January 2018 it was reported that a woman in Bakurtsikhe village of Gurjaani municipality, who had returned from China 12 days ago, was prescribed a medical treatment because of virus infection and she was under the supervision of epidemiologists. However, that information was spread in a distorted form on Facebook: “Snake virus is already in Georgia – 22-year-old woman was recently hospitalized with the symptoms of the snake virus.”
The aforementioned news story contains false information: 1) the patient continues treatment at home 2) Paata Imnadze, Head of Scientific Board of the National Centre of Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia stated that “the 22-year-old woman, who returned from China on 16 January and was diagnosed with viral infection symptoms, is not infected with the coronavirus and this is neither possible nor suspicious case of coronavirus by any of the international standards.”
Disinformation about the Georgian Doctors
On 26 January 2019, it was reported in different Georgian media outlets (Alia, ambavi.cc), that Georgian doctors were refusing to screen passengers on the coronavirus in the airport, because they lacked special uniforms and equipment to protect against the infection. According to those media outlets, the doctors disagreed with the procedure to screen passengers in the airport (instead of screening directly in the aircraft). News-front, which is a Russian propaganda mouthpiece, decried passenger health screening procedure of the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons, Labour, Health and Social Affairs. The same media outlet has compared health screening of passengers in Tbilisi Airport to the Moscow Airport practice of checking passengers in the aircraft.
The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons, Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia promptly responded to that disinformation. As stated by the Ministry, not a single case was reported, when ambulance doctor either refused or protested against screening the passengers on coronavirus in the airport. In addition, as clarified by the Georgian health authorities, ambulance personnel wears C level uniform (ambulance uniform) and currently there is no need to take additional measures, since Georgia is in less dangerous green zone. According to the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons, Health, Labour and Social Affairs, each and every step of the Ministry in regard to virus prevention has been agreed with the World Health Organisation.
Disinformation about Chinese Passengers Taking Fever Medication
News-Front and Mynet.ge reported that Chinese passengers were taking fever medication prior to health screening in the airports to pass the screening in that manner and avoid being quarantined. However, that claim is not corroborated with real facts. Currently, only one such case has been reported (in Paris), although in that case, the person was not infected with the coronavirus.
Disinformation about the Coronavirus in Ukraine
News-Front spread information about identifying the coronavirus in Ukraine after the official announcement that the case of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infection had not been confirmed in Ukraine.
In that news, Mynet.ge urged the population to avoid parcels from China or treat them with utmost caution. Of note is that the Government of Georgia has banned wildlife import from China out of safety considerations, since they could be infected by the coronavirus. However, there is no ground to avoid other type of parcels (such as hardware). In accordance with the information of Disease Control and Prevention Centre of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coronavirus initially spread from animals and moved from human to human through close contact, sneezing, coughing, etc. Therefore, the Government of Georgia banned wildlife import only.
Disinformation about Infection by Coronavirus through Bananas
There have been many cautions through social media that bananas are deliberately infused with the coronavirus to spread the infection, therefore we have to avoid bananas and share that information among our friends. However, that claim does not correspond to the reality – there is not a single evidence to confirm that and none of the reliable sources has reported that news. As mentioned previously, coronavirus spread from the living organisms – animals. Afterwards, it started to spread from human to human. Therefore, conspiracy theories about coronavirus spreading by bananas are groundless, since coronavirus does not spread that way. The similar disinformation was circulating last year too, when spread of the swine flu was also ascribed to the infected bananas.
Coronavirus is deliberately infused into the bananas and spread in different countries. Repost this immediately. Do not eat bananas. Repost…
There were certain assumptions through media and social networks that the coronavirus spread from bats and snakes, although this has not yet been confirmed.
Since the outbreak of the virus, there has been ample shocking news through social networks and media. For instance, wnews.ge published an article with the following title: “Coronavirus, which has already killed plenty of people in China, will soon be in Georgia – See what doctors advice and how to protect ourselves from the deadly virus.” As mentioned previously, Georgia is in the low risk zone (so called “green zone) for the coronavirus spread and the news story published by wnews.ge is the so called clickbait (content on the internet, whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link).
In addition, on 23 January 2020, TV Mtavari also reported false information. In TV Mtavari’s broadcast, presumably a virus-related death of the 22-year-old woman was reported. In the beginning of the broadcast it was mentioned that making straightforward claims about the causes of death was hard, however, journalist later stated that “the only version which is being considered is the coronavirus, which is currently spread in Asia.” It was premature and groundless to make this conclusion. At the same day, Amiran Gamkrelidze, Head of the National Centre of Disease Control and Public Health, stated that as a result of laboratory study it was confirmed that the woman in Zugdidi died from the Type B Influenza.