On 15 June 2020, www.hotnews.ge published an article entitled “Shocking Admission of WHO’s Epidemiologist – Epidemic Does not Exist!” Later, www.hotnews.ge deleted the aforementioned article, although its cached version is still available (see here). In spite of removing the article, it was nonetheless widely circulated throughout Facebook and amassed over 5,000 interactions (over 2,000 reacts, over 2,000 comments and 1,360 shares).

According to www.hotnews.ge: “One of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 technical leads, an American epidemiologist of infectious diseases, stated: ‘There is no pandemic. The epidemic does not exist. No vaccine is needed. Healthy people do not need gloves, face masks and other protective equipment. There was no need for a lockdown and a curfew as well as the so-called contact tracing. The virus cannot survive on surfaces – such an isolation was only the demand of governments. Each and every organisation, fitness clubs, theatres, restaurants, cafes and bars can work at full capacity.’”

The article indicated a YouTube video where WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria van Kerkhove, is answering a question at the briefing and speaks about the asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The quote in the article completely differs from the actual source in the article which is Maria van Kerkhove’s interview. Dr van Kerkhove does not mention that the pandemic and the epidemic do not exist nor does she deny the need for protective measures and a vaccine. Therefore, the quote at www.hotnews.ge is completely fake (see the YouTube video indicated as a source).

Information promoted by www.hotnews.ge is also false in regard to protective measures (wearing face masks and gloves). According to the WHO’s recommendation published on 5 June 2020, wearing face masks is paramount for preventing and controlling respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19. Face masks can be used both to protect healthy people and to reduce the risks of spreading the disease from infected individuals. In addition, the WHO clarifies that wearing face masks alone is not a sufficient protective measure. Measures taken at the personal and societal levels, including hygiene and social distancing, are important to prevent the spread of infection.

The aforementioned fake news item was deleted by www.hotnews.ge but it was copied in its original form by the following websites:

  • www.qartuliazri.reportiori.ge/ - “Georgian Thought” (around 6,300 interactions, including 675 reacts, 115 comments and over 5,500 shares).
  • www.tinp.ge (over 8,400 interactions, including over 3,400 reacts, over 2,300 comments and nearly 2,600 shares).
  • Paqtebi.ge – the article has been viewed more than 1,000 times, although interactions on Facebook are negligible (86 interactions, including 40 reacts, three comments and 43 shares).
  • www.viki.ge

In fact, at her briefing on 8 June 2020, Maria van Kerkhove stated that the asymptomatic transmission (transmission of the virus from an infected person who does not show symptoms) of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is very rare. The next day, Dr van Kerkhove made an additional explanation and stated that her previous statement is not the WHO’s official policy and that she was speaking based on two or three research studies. Given the paucity of current research studies, it is hard to assert that asymptomatic patients rarely spread infection.

The fabricated quote of the WHO’s official has been widely spread throughout Georgian Facebook pages and groups and at the time of this writing it had around 23,00 interactions.

The article was prepared with the help of Facebook’s CrowdTangle.