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December 3, 2020

 

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Busting the COVID-19 myths circulating in Czech

21.3.2020 12:04
Facts and myths about COVID-19. (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Facts and myths about COVID-19. (Collage: Romea.cz)

Many half-truths and myths are being shared among Czech language speakers in association with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Czech politicians, including members of the European Parliament, after initially calling for social cohesion, have begun abusing the situation and are resorting to deception as part of their effort to score political points.

Others are offering "100 % guaranteed" old wives' tales and absurd instructions on how to avoid catching COVID-19. Thanks to social media, these untruths are being spread at lightning speed.

The main Czech-language politically-oriented disinformation talking points about the pandemic:

  • allegations that the pandemic is associated with the need of "elites" to "reformat" the world
  • allegations that the "rotten" EU is "intentionally" inactive at this time
  • accusations that the Government of the Czech Republic and the public broadcasters Czech Radio and Czech Television are causing an "artificial" panic
  • speculation that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with migration
  • speculation that the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with the introduction of 5G networks
  • speculation that the COVID-19 pandemic is a biological weapon developed in the West
  • speculation that the COVID-19 pandemic is being disseminated by allied soldiers from the USA during their movements as part of military exercises

The myth of foreign military intervention

Earlier this week news server Romea.cz reported on how news server manipulatori.cz had refuted a hoax about tens of thousands of American soldiers disembarking in Europe. The article, entitled "In the shadow of coronavirus: USA transferring enormous number of soldiers, airplanes and tanks to Europe, expert says we're on the brink of war, the USA has never occupied Europe with as strong an army as it has now" ("Ve stínu koronaviru: USA přesouvá do Evropy obrovské množství vojáků, letadel a tanků. Jsme na pokraji války, říká expert. USA dosud nikdy neobsadila Evropu tak silnou armádou jako teď") was just a hoax.

In reality, what was talking place were pre-announced military exercises involving NATO called "Defender Europe 20". Because of the situation around the dissemination of the COVID-19 infection, the European Command of the US Army (EUCOM) had previously announced it would be reducing the number of those participating in the exercises with allied countries.

On Monday the US Army cancelled the entire exercise. "On 13 March we halted all movements of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe. The health, safety and preparedness of our Army, of civilians and their family members are our main priority," EUCOM announced.

Another untrue rumor about protective gear intended for health care workers not being allowed into the Czech Republic has recently been refuted by manipulatori.cz. Czech MEP Ivan David, who represents the ultra-nationalist "Freedom and Direct Democracy" party (SPD), and the vice-chair of the Liberec Region cell of the SPD, Bronislav Kalvoda, have both accused Germany of preventing the onward travel of a truck with protective gear intended for delivery to the Czech Republic.

"In the meantime, reports arrived that Germany is preventing the delivery of health care supplies from China intended for other countries - Austria, Slovakia, and apparently even to our country," David posted to his Facebook profile. It was eventually proven that this untrue allegation came about because the shipper completed customs forms incorrectly at the Czech-German border.

According to information from the German customs administration that has been published by manipulatori.cz, just one such shipment was delayed because the dispatcher completed the customs forms erroneously. After correcting the mistake the shipment should then enter the Czech Republic, according to the German customs administration.

The European Union is providing aid

What it is essential to understand when it comes to the question of the EU combating the dissemination of COVID-19 is that the European Commission has minimal powers in the health care area - while this falls primarily within the competence of the individual Member States, the Commission does play an important role in coordinating the Member States and in thereby moderating the impacts of the infection. Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Member States have approved a European Commission proposal to close the EU's external borders for 30 days.

The Commission is doing all it can to arrange for sufficient supplies of protective gear to be made available throughout the European Union. The European Commission has proposed establishing an emergency investment fund that should aid health care providers and branches of industry that are most affected economically by the pandemic.

That fund will provide as much as EUR 37 billion to the Member States. The Czech Republic should receive almost EUR 1.2 billion to aid with the consequences of COVID-19.

COVID-19 evolved in nature

Incorrect rumors are also circulating through the Internet that this novel type of coronavirus was allegedly artificially created as a biological weapon. The main article being shared has a headline that reads "Coronavirus has all the characteristics of a Grade 4 biological weapon, i.e., a weapon of mass destruction" ("Koronavirus má všechny charakteristiky biologické zbraně stupně 4, tedy zbraně hromadného ničení"), with the byline of a David Novák.

Anybody reading this article will learn nothing from it about whether the author is an expert, despite the fact that it contains very specific allegations that would require the expertise of doctors and of epidemiologists. News server manipulatori.cz has recently refuted those allegations, which the article does not substantiate.

This novel type of coronavirus was not created artificially, according to a new study by an international team of scientists who have investigated it. According to an article from the scientific journal Nature Medicine, it evolved in nature.

The team of scientists has two theories about how the virus has been transmitted from animals to human beings. The COVID-19 virus is similar to one that naturally occurs in bats and could have passed from them to us directly or through another intermediary animal host.

If the virus had been artificially created, it would bear more of a similarity to existing strains of coronavirus produced by scientists for research purposes. It is unlikely we will ever be able to trace the exact way the virus arrived in the human population.

HOME REMEDIES WILL NOT KILL COVID-19

Even as the fight against the novel type of coronavirus is being waged through social distancing, people using social media in the Czech language are also disseminating different "old wives' tales" or fact-free opinions about how to combat it. The Czech Health Ministry is doing its best, through its website, to correct the bad ideas being disseminated through the Internet and to refute untruths that many here are associating with how to treat a person who has contracted COVID-19.

CONSUMING ALCOHOL AND CIGARETTES WILL NOT PREVENT YOU FROM CONTRACTING THE CORONAVIRUS AND WILL NOT KILL IT IF IT IS IN YOUR SYSTEM, nor will topical preparations containing alcohol for cleaning one's hands and surfaces. On the other hand, if you are ordering goods from e-shops based in China, you do not have to be afraid that the virus will arrive along with them.

According to the Czech Health Ministry, the virus is not being transmitted through the mail, not from China and not from other countries affected. Another example of incorrect beliefs is a chain e-mail recently circulating on the Czech Internet alleging that high temperatures kill the virus and that therefore drinking hot water allegedly prevents infection.

Given that the average temperature of the human body is 37 degrees Celsius, it should be clear to everybody that this is worthless advice. "Regular consumption of hot water is not effective against coronavirus," the Czech Health Ministry's official website informs the public.

Other "old wives' tales" circulating in Czech recommend bathing in chlorine solutions, or using garlic in various ways, or using nose drops. None of these procedures will prevent contraction or rid you of coronavirus, according to the Czech Health Ministry.

THERE IS NO MEDICINE THAT WILL KILL THE CORONAVIRUS YET

Information is also being spread on the Czech Internet that antibiotics can kill COVID-19. The Health Ministry is warning that is impossible: antibiotics are just for diseases caused by bacteria, not viruses.

No antibiotic can be used to kill a virus, therefore. Similarly, advice spreading online about anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may be exaggerating the idea that avoiding their use will increase the likelihood that one will not contract COVID-19.

News server irozhlas.cz reports that Jean-Michel Constantin, who heads the intensive care unit at the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in Paris, France, has told the media that "Anti-inflammatory drugs do decrease immune system response and therefore could sometimes cause complications, but these impressions are unverified by any scientific proof, and it would certainly be bad if people interpreted this in such a way that they stop taking medicines that are life-saving. This disease has not been here in us that long, there are not yet any studies of this."

Czech Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula, who is an epidemiologist, has been sending a similar message to the public about anti-inflammatories. Speaking of which - what about you, have you encountered any absurdities circulating in Czech or other languages about the COVID-19 disease?

Has an e-mail been sent to you promising a "100 % guarantee" against infection if you follow certain advice? If so, please let us know at romea@romea.cz, we will be updating our reporting on this issue.

SB, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Dezinformace, Evropská unie, Hoax



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