Covid-19 Mar 06

China battles rumors, coronavirus ‘fake news'

Lighting firecrackers does not stop someone getting the virus, People's Daily notes as official mocks ‘mermaid infections’

China battles against fake Covid-19 news
The People's Daily has debunked a series of rumors and claims that have swept across China in regard to the Covid-19 epidemic. Photo: AFP

(ATF) – As the state controls all media in Mainland China, both off and online, very often rumors sweep across society. China is estimated to have several million censors, as well as AI technologies to catch and delete unofficial commentaries. But even with enough censors to populate a small city, China’s online population of hundreds of millions, many of whom are stuck at home due to the coronavirus epidemic, are keeping the gatekeepers on their toes.

During periods of intense national security, such as during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and now during Covid-19 epidemic many leaks, rumors and conspiracy theories have spread among the population. The suppression of citizen reporters, whistleblowers and others is not made public, but on March 5 the Party mouthpiece felt the need to release an article to suppress public speculation on Covid-19 – in the interests of public safety.

The top rumor, the People’s Daily noted, was the belief that newly released Covid-19 test kits can be used at home for self-testing. The so-called "home edition" test kits were being sold on Wechat. But the Beijing Municipal Drug Administration told the paper there is no home version of the new coronavirus detection kit.

The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Drug Administration reminded the public that any new and approved coronavirus detection kits require medical institutions with polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) laboratories and special equipment to complete the test – and ordinary citizens cannot use them at home.

At present, the Covid-19 epidemic is still in a critical period of prevention. Citizens should not trust false claims, and they should seek medical treatment promptly if relevant symptoms occur, officials said.

Firecracker prevention?

Meanwhile, in Shanghai a rumor started that epidemic prevention experts had recommended setting off firecrackers to eliminate the virus. However, the People’s Daily said that firecrackers cannot suppress the virus, but they can cause strong irritation to the respiratory tract. The People’s Daily says this "fake news" emerged in Europe.

This was verified at a recent press conference in Shanghai, where it was noted that no one had made the suggestion of "proposing fireworks and firecrackers in epidemic areas to eliminate viruses". Officials said the smoke from fireworks and firecrackers would not inhibit Covid-19 – it would strongly stimulate the human respiratory tract and even increase the risk of infection. 

Real experts also noted that aerosol transmission of the virus could only occur in three conditions – confined space, a long period of exposure, and a high concentration of the virus. So, there was little possibility of aerosol transmission in well-ventilated room.

Aquatic animals a risk?

Another rumor that freshwater fish spread Covid-19 was also crushed by the People's Daily, which said mammalian viruses cannot multiply in aquatic animals.

Zeng Lingbing, a second-level researcher at the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences and an expert in the prevention and control of viral diseases in the freshwater fish industry, said that so far no such diseases had been reported around the world because of temperature changes.

Zeng appeared to mock the idea of such fish-to-human transmissions, saying there had been no reports of “mermaid infections”.

Aquatic animals and thermostatic mammals live in completely different environments. Aquatic animal viruses cannot infect mammals and mammalian viruses cannot multiply in aquatic animals.

"Despite this, viruses, bacteria, or parasites, conventional cooking can completely kill them," Li Qingyong said. Aquatic products were a high-quality and safe source of animal protein and food for human beings, the paper said.

Anti-static clothing? 

Another rumor was that anti-static clothing could be used as a 'barrier' that could block transmission of Covid-19. But The People's Daily said: "‘Anti-static clothing has no functional layer to filter, block viruses or fine particles."

Wu Haibo, an associate professor at Donghua University's College of Textiles, explained that static electricity is an objective natural phenomenon that can be generated in various ways, such as contact, friction and peeling. When people walk in ordinary clothes, they generate a large electrostatic voltage, but this would not occur when walking in anti-static clothing. Anti-static clothing is made of a special clean fabric, which has the characteristics of high-efficiency anti-static, dust-proof performance, thinness and clear texture.

Wu Haibo said that masks or protective clothing used for protection of new types of coronaviruses mainly achieved the core protective function through a layer of non-woven material that filters and blocks viruses or fine particles.

Fake mask video also wrong

Many people also believe they can tell a fake mask by setting fire to it. As shown on a popular video, a person removes the opening cover, takes out the middle layer of the mask and lights it with a lighter. If there is no flame the mask is the real thing, the video claims, and ones that burn are fake.

But Zhang Yi, a professor at Central South University's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, said this method of "detection" cannot actually distinguish between genuine and fake masks.

Earlier, Zhang said, there were rumors from the media, saying that the main materials in face masks was polypropylene. Polypropylene is a thermoplastic resin made when propylene undergoes a polymerization process. The material itself is flammable. Relevant national standards also only stipulate the "flammability" of masks. There is no requirement for masks to be "non-flammable", so whether a mask can be ignited is not a criterion for authenticating it, the professor said.