Misinformation related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

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After the initial outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation emerged online regarding the origin, scale, prevention, treatment, and other aspects of the disease.[1][2][3][4] Disinformation and misinformation was spread by social media,[5][3] text messages,[6][7] and Russian, Chinese and Iranian state media.[8][3] Some misinformation and disinformation claimed the virus was a bio-weapon with a patented vaccine, a population control scheme, or the result of a spy operation.[5][4][9] Medical misinformation about ways to prevent, treat, and self-diagnose coronavirus disease also circulated on social media.[10] The World Health Organization has declared an "infodemic" of incorrect information about the virus, which poses risks to global health.[3]

Efforts to combat misinformation

On February 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) described a "massive infodemic", citing an over-abundance of reported information, accurate and false, about the virus that "makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it." The WHO stated that the high demand for timely and trustworthy information has incentivised the creation of a direct WHO 24/7 myth-busting hotline where its communication and social media teams have been monitoring and responding to misinformation through its website and social media pages.[11][12][13] The WHO specifically debunked as false some claims that have circulated on social media, including the claim that a person can tell if they have the virus or not simply by holding their breath; the claim that drinking lots of water will protect against the virus; and the claim that that gargling salt water will prevent infection.[14]

Facebook, Twitter and Google said they were working with WHO to address "misinformation".[15] In a blogpost, Facebook stated they would remove content flagged by leading global health organizations and local authorities that violate its content policy on misinformation leading to "physical harm".[16] Facebook is also giving free advertising to WHO.[17]

At the end of February, Amazon removed over one million products claimed to cure or protect against coronavirus, and removed tens of thousands of listings for overpriced health products.[18]

Many newspapers with paywalls lowered them for some or all of their coronavirus coverage.[19] Many scientific publishers made scientific papers related to the outbreak open access.[20] Some scientists chose to share their results quickly on preprint servers such as bioRxiv.[21] Nature Medicine disproved the conspiracy theory about the artificial origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The high-affinity binding of the virus' peplomers to human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) was shown to be "most likely the result of natural selection on a human or human-like ACE2 that permits another optimal binding solution to arise".[22] In case of genetic manipulation, one of the several reverse-genetic systems for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used, while the genetic data irrefutably showed that the virus is not derived from a previously used virus template.[22] The overall molecular structure of the virus was found to be distinct from the known coronaviruses and most closely resembles that of viruses of bats and pangolins that were little studied and never known to harm humans.[23]

Conspiracy theories

Chinese biological weapon

In January 2020 the BBC published an article about coronavirus misinformation, citing two January 24 articles from The Washington Times that claimed the virus was part of a Chinese biological weapons program, based at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).[1][24] The Washington Post later published an article debunking the conspiracy theory, citing US experts who explained why the WIV was unsuitable for bioweapon research, that most countries had abandoned bioweapons as fruitless, and that there was no evidence that the virus was genetically engineered.[25]

On January 29, financial news website and blog ZeroHedge suggested without evidence that a scientist at the WIV created the COVID-19 strain responsible for the coronavirus outbreak. Zerohedge listed the full contact details of the scientist supposedly responsible, a practice known as doxing, by including the scientist's name, photo, and phone number, suggesting to readers that they "pay [the Chinese scientist] a visit" if they wanted to know "what really caused the coronavirus pandemic".[26] Twitter later permanently suspended the blog's account for violating its platform-manipulation policy.[27]

In January 2020 Buzzfeed News reported on an internet meme/conspiracy theory of a link between the logo of the WIV and "Umbrella Corporation", the agency that made the virus that starts the zombie apocalypse in the Resident Evil franchise. The theory saw a link between "Racoon" (the main city in Resident Evil), and an anagram of "Corona" (the name of the virus).[28] The popularity of this theory attracted the attention of Snopes, who disproved it by showing that the logo was not from the WIV but from Shanghai Ruilan Bao Hu San Biotech Ltd, located some 500 miles (800 km) away in Shanghai; Snopes pointed out that the correct name of the city in Resident Evil is Raccoon City.[28]

In February 2020, US Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Francis Boyle, a law professor, suggested that the virus may have been a Chinese bioweapon,[29] while in the opinion of numerous medical experts there is no evidence for this.[30] Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh said on The Rush Limbaugh Show— the most popular radio show in the US—that the virus was probably "a ChiCom laboratory experiment" and that the Chinese were using the virus and the media hysteria surrounding it to bring down Donald Trump.[31][32] In February 2020, The Financial Times quoted virus expert and global co-lead coronavirus investigator Trevor Bedford: "There is no evidence whatsoever of genetic engineering that we can find", and "The evidence we have is that the mutations [in the virus] are completely consistent with natural evolution".[33] Bedford further explained, "The most likely scenario, based on genetic analysis, was that the virus was transmitted by a bat to another mammal between 20–70 years ago. This intermediary animal—not yet identified—passed it on to its first human host in the city of Wuhan in late November or early December 2019".[33]

The Inverse reported that "Christopher Bouzy, the founder of Bot Sentinel, did a Twitter analysis for Inverse and found [online] bots and trollbots are making an array of false claims. These bots are claiming China intentionally created the virus, that it's a biological weapon, that Democrats are overstating the threat to hurt Donald Trump and more. While we can't confirm the origin of these bots, they are decidedly pro-Trump."[34]

Misinformation aside, concerns on accidental leakage by the WIV remain.[35] In 2017, US molecular biologist Richard H. Ebright, expressed caution when the WIV was expanded to become mainland China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL–4) laboratory, noting previous escapes of the SARS virus at other Chinese laboratories.[36] While Ebright refuted several conspiracy theories regarding the WIV (e.g. bioweapons research, that the virus was engineered), he told BBC China that this did not represent the possibility that the virus can be "completely ruled out" from entering the population due to a laboratory accident.[35] On February 6, the White House asked scientists and medical researchers to rapidly investigate the origins of the virus to address both the current spread and "to inform future outbreak preparation and better understand animal/human and environmental transmission aspects of coronaviruses."[37]

MP Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee of the UK House of Commons, publicly questioned the role of the Chinese Army's Wuhan Institute for Biological Products and called for the "greater transparency over the origins of the coronavirus".[38]

The South China Morning Post reported that one of the WIV's lead researchers, Shi Zhengli, was the particular focus of personal attacks in Chinese social media alleging that her work on bat-based viruses was the source of the virus; this led Shi to post: "I swear with my life, [the virus] has nothing to do with the lab". When asked by the SCMP to comment on the attacks, Shi responded: "My time must be spent on more important matters".[39] Caixin reported Shi made further public statements against "perceived tinfoil-hat theories about the new virus's source", quoting her as saying: "The novel 2019 coronavirus is nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits. I, Shi Zhengli, swear on my life that it has nothing to do with our laboratory".[40]

Far-right commentator Josh Bernstein claimed that the Democratic Party and the "medical deep state" were collaborating with the Chinese government to create and release the coronavirus to bring down Donald Trump. Bernstein went on to suggest that those responsible should be locked in a room with infected coronavirus patients as punishment.[41]

Fox News hosted Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, who promoted a conspiracy theory that North Korea and China conspired together to create the coronavirus.[42] He also said that people were overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak and that Democrats were trying to use the situation to harm President Trump.[43]

US biological weapon

Russian accusation

On February 22, US officials alleged that Russia is behind an ongoing disinformation campaign, using thousands of social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to deliberately promote unfounded conspiracy theories, claiming that the virus is a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA and the US is waging economic war on China using the virus.[44][45][46] The acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, Philip Reeker, said that "Russia's intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within" and "by spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response."[44] Russia denies the allegation, saying "this is a deliberately false story".[47]

According to US-based The National Interest magazine, although official Russian channels had been muted on pushing the US biowarfare conspiracy theory, other Russian media elements do not share the Kremlin's restraint.[48] Zvezda, a news outlet funded by the Russian Defense Ministry, published an article titled "Coronavirus: American biological warfare against Russia and China", claiming that the virus is intended to damage the Chinese economy, weakening its hand in the next round of trade negotiations.[48] Ultra-nationalist politician and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, claimed on a Moscow radio station that the virus was an experiment by the Pentagon and pharmaceutical companies. Politician Igor Nikulin made rounds on Russian television and news media, arguing that Wuhan was chosen for the attack because the presence of a BSL-4 virus lab provided a cover story for the Pentagon and CIA about a Chinese bio-experiment leak.[48] An EU-document claims 80 attempts by Russian media to spread disinformation related to the epidemic.[49]

Sputnik was very active publishing stories claiming that the virus was invented in Latvia, that it was used by Communist Party of China to curb protests in Hong Kong, that it was introduced intentionally to reduce number of elder people in Italy, that it was targeted against the Yellow Vests movement, and many others. Sputnik branches in countries such as Armenia, Belarus, Spain and Arab countries came up with customized versions of these stories.[50]

Iranian accusation

According to Radio Farda, Iranian cleric Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi accused US President Donald Trump of targeting Qom with coronavirus "to damage its culture and honor". Saeedi claimed that Trump is fulfilling his promise to hit Iranian cultural sites, if Iranians took revenge for the US airstrike that killed of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani.[51]

Iranian TV personality Ali Akbar Raefipour claimed that the coronavirus was part of a "hybrid warfare" programme waged by the United States on Iran and China.[52]

Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, head of Iranian Civil Defense Organization, claimed that the coronavirus is likely a biological attack on China and Iran with economic goals.[53][54]

Hossein Salami, the head of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), claimed that the coronavirus outbreak in Iran may be due to a US "biological attack".[55] Several Iranian politicians, including Ali Khamenei, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Rasoul Falahati, Alireza Panahian, Abolfazl Hasanbeigi and Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imanabadi, also made similar remarks.[56] However, Iran's deputy health minister Reza Malekzadeh rejected the biological warfare theory.[57]

Ayatollah Hashem Bathaie Golpayegani claimed that "America is the source of coronavirus, because America went head to head with China and realised it cannot keep up with it economically or militarily."[58]

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the United Nations on March 9, claiming that "it is clear to the world that the mutated coronavirus was produced in lab" and that COVID-19 is "a new weapon for establishing and/or maintaining political and economic upper hand in the global arena."[59]

Chinese accusation

According to London-based The Economist, plenty of conspiracy theories exist on China's internet about COVID-19 being the CIA's creation to keep China down.[60]

Multiple conspiracy articles in Chinese from the SARS era resurfaced during the outbreak with altered details, claiming that SARS is biological warfare conducted by the US against China. Some of these articles claim that BGI Group from China sold genetic information of the Chinese people to the US, with the US then being able to deploy the virus specifically targeting the genome of Chinese individuals.[61]

On January 26, Chinese military news site Xilu published an article detailing how the virus was artificially combined by the US to "precisely target Chinese people".[62] The article was removed after early February.

Some articles on popular sites in Chinese have also cast suspicion on US military athletes participating in the Wuhan 2019 Military World Games, which lasted until the end of October 2019, and have suggested that they deployed the virus. They claim the inattentive attitude and disproportionately below-average results of American athletes in the games indicate they might have been there for other purposes and they might actually be bio-warfare operatives. Such posts stated that their place of residence during their stay in Wuhan was also close to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the first known cluster of cases occurred.[63]

In March 2020, this conspiracy theory was endorsed by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China.[64][65][66] On March 13, the US government summoned Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai to Washington DC over the coronavirus conspiracy theory.[67]

Arab world

According to Washington DC-based nonprofit Middle East Media Research Institute, numerous writers in the Arabic press have promoted the conspiracy theory that COVID-19, as well as SARS and the swine flu virus, were deliberately created and spread by the US to sell vaccines against these diseases, and it is "part of an economic and psychological war waged by the US against China with the aim of weakening it and presenting it as a backward country and a source of diseases".[68] Iraqi political analyst Sabah Al-Akili on Al-Etejah TV, Saudi daily Al-Watan writer Sa'ud Al-Shehry, Syrian daily Al-Thawra columnist Hussein Saqer, and Egyptian journalist Ahmad Rif'at on Egyptian news website Vetogate, were some examples given by MEMRI as propagators of the US biowarfare conspiracy theory in the Arabic world.[68]


A Filipino Senator, Tito Sotto, played a bioweapon conspiracy video in a February 2020 Senate hearing, suggesting that the coronavirus is biowarfare waged against China.[69][70]


Constituent Assembly member Elvis Méndez declared that the coronavirus is a "bacteriological sickness created in '89, in '90 and historically" and that it was a sickness "inoculated by the gringos". Méndez theorized that the virus was a weapon against Latin America and China and that its purpose was "to demoralize the person, to weaken to install their system".[71]

Antisemitic conspiracy theories

Iran's Press TV asserted that "Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran".[8] Similarly, various Arab media outlets accused Israel and the United States of creating and spreading COVID-19, avian flu, and SARS.[72] Users on social media offered a variety of theories, including the supposition that Jews had manufactured COVID-19 to precipitate a global stock market collapse and thereby profit via insider trading,[73] while a guest on Turkish television posited a more ambitious scenario in which Jews and Zionists had created COVID-19, avian flu, and Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever to "design the world, seize countries, [and] neuter the world's population".[74] Professional conspiracy theorist David Icke has suggested the Rothschild family is "fundamentally involved" in using coronavirus to advance an agenda of societal domination and control.[75]

Israeli attempts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine prompted mixed reactions. Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi denied initial reports that he had ruled that a Zionist-made vaccine would be halal,[76] and one Press TV journalist tweeted that "I'd rather take my chances with the virus than consume an Israeli vaccine".[77] A columnist for the Turkish Yeni Akit asserted that such a vaccine could be a ruse to carry out mass sterilization.[78]

An alert by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the possible threat of far-right extremists intentionally spreading the coronavirus mentioned blame being assigned to Jews and Jewish leaders for causing the pandemic and several statewide shutdowns across the US.[79]

Spy operation

Some people have alleged that the coronavirus was stolen from a Canadian virus research lab by Chinese scientists. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said that conspiracy theory had "no factual basis".[80] The stories seem to have been derived[81] from a July 2019 news article[82] stating that some Chinese researchers had their security access to a Canadian Level 4 virology facility revoked in an federal police investigation; Canadian officials described this as an administrative matter and said that "there is absolutely no risk to the Canadian public".[82] This article was published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC);[81] responding to the conspiracy theories, the CBC later stated that "CBC reporting never claimed the two scientists were spies, or that they brought any version of the coronavirus to the lab in Wuhan". While pathogen samples were transferred from the lab in Winnipeg, Canada to Beijing, China, on March 31, 2019, neither of the samples was a coronavirus, the Public Health Agency of Canada says that the shipment conformed to all federal policies, and there has not been any statement that the researchers under investigation were responsible for sending the shipment. The current location of the researchers under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is not being released.[80][83][84] In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, a senior research associate and expert in biological warfare with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, referring to a NATO press conference, identified suspicions of espionage as the reason behind the expulsions from the lab, but made no suggestion that coronavirus was taken from the Canadian lab or that it is the result of bioweapons defense research in China.[85]

Population control scheme

According to the BBC, Jordan Sather, a conspiracy theory YouTuber supporting the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory and the anti-vax movement, has falsely claimed the outbreak was a population control scheme created by Pirbright Institute in England and by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates.[1][86]

Claims that the coronavirus is not new

There are theories that claim that Lysol-brand spray disinfectants are proof that governments have known about the coronavirus since long before the outbreak occurred, since cans of Lysol spray disinfectant claim to be effective against "Human Coronavirus". The theory also suggested that such labeling has been present on cans of Lysol spray disinfectant since the early 1960s, and that hence, governments have secretly known about the coronavirus ever since then. Reckitt Benckiser, the owner of the Lysol brand, responded stating that "coronavirus" is the name of an entire family of viruses (known to exist for many decades) of which the pathogen responsible for the 2019 pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) is a new mutation. Benckiser stated that their product has not yet been confirmed to be effective against this specific new kind of coronavirus.[87]

Size of the pandemic

Nurse whistleblower

On January 24, a video circulated online appearing to be of a nurse named Jin Hui[88] in Hubei describing a far more dire situation in Wuhan than purported by Chinese officials. The video claimed that more than 90,000 people had been infected with the virus in China, the virus can spread from one person to 14 people and the virus is starting the second mutation.[89] The video attracted millions of views on various social media platforms and was mentioned in numerous online reports. However, the BBC noted that contrary to its English subtitles in one of the video's existing versions, the woman does not claim to be either a nurse or a doctor in the video and that her suit and mask do not match the ones worn by medical staff in Hubei.[1] The video's claim of 90,000 infected cases is noted to be 'unsubstantiated'.[1][89]

Alleged leak of death toll

On 25 February, Taiwan News published an article, claiming Tencent accidentally leaked the real numbers of death and infection in China. Taiwan News suggests the Tencent Epidemic Situation Tracker had briefly showed infected cases and death tolls many times higher of the official figure, citing a Facebook post by 38-year-old Taiwanese beverage store owner Hiroki Lo and an anonymous Taiwanese netizen.[90][failed verification] The article was referenced by other news outlets such as Daily Mail and widely circulated on Twitter, Facebook, 4chan, sparked a wide range of conspiracy theories that the screenshot indicates the real death toll instead of the ones published by health officials.[citation needed] Justin Lessler, associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, claims the numbers of the alleged "leak" are unreasonable and unrealistic, citing the case fatality rate as far lower than the 'leaked information'. A spokesman of Tencent responded to the news article, claiming the image was doctored, and it features "false information which we never published".[91][failed verification]

Keoni Everington, author of the original news article, defended and asserted the authenticity of the leak.[92] Brian Hioe and Lars Wooster of New Bloom Magazine debunked the theory from data on other websites, which were using Tencent's database to generate custom visualizations while showing none of the inflated figures appearing in the images promulgated by Taiwan News. Thus, they concluded the screenshot was digitally fabricated.[92]

Misinformation against Taiwan

On February 26, 2020, Taiwanese Central News Agency reported that large amounts of misinformation had appeared on Facebook claiming the pandemic in Taiwan had lost control, the Taiwanese Government had covered up the total number of cases, and that President Tsai Ing-wen had been infected. The Taiwan fact-checking organization had suggested the misinformation on Facebook shared similarities with mainland China due to its use of simplified Chinese and mainland China vocabulary. The organization warns the purpose of the misinformation is to attack the government.[93][94][95]

In March 2020, Taiwan's Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau warned that mainland China was trying to undermine trust in factual news by portraying the Taiwanese Government reports as fake news. Taiwanese authorities have been ordered to use all possible means to track whether the messages were linked to instructions given by the Communist Party of China. The PRC's Taiwan Affairs Office denied the claims calling them lies and said that Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party was "inciting hatred" between the two sides. They then claimed that the "The DPP continues to politically manipulate the virus."[96] China has used organized disinformation campaigns against Taiwan for decades.[97]

Nick Monaco the research director of the Digital Intelligence Lab at Institute for the Future analyzed the posts and concluded that the majority appear to have come from ordinary users in China not the state. However he criticized the Chinese government making to decision to allow the information to spread beyond China's Great Firewall which he described as "malicious."[98]

On March 27, 2020 the American Institute in Taiwan announced that it was partnering with the Taiwan FactCheck Center to help combat misinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak.[99]

Misrepresented World Population Project Map

In early February, a decade-old map illustrating a hypothetical viral outbreak published by the World Population Project (part of the University of Southampton) was misappropriated by a number of Australian media news outlets (and British tabloids The Sun, Daily Mail and Metro)[100] which claimed the map represented the 2020 coronavirus outbreak. This misinformation was then spread via the social media accounts of the same media outlets, and while some outlets later removed the map, the BBC reported that a number of news sites had yet to retract the map.[100]

Medical misinformation

Vaccine preexistence

It was reported that multiple social media posts have promoted a conspiracy theory claiming the virus was known and that a vaccine was already available. PolitiFact and noted that no vaccine currently exists for COVID-19. The patents cited by various social media posts reference existing patents for genetic sequences and vaccines for other strains of coronavirus such as the SARS coronavirus.[101][5] The WHO reported as of February 5, 2020 that amid news reports of "breakthrough" drugs being discovered to treat people infected with the virus, there were no known effective treatments;[102] this included antibiotics and herbal remedies not being useful.[103] Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, but as of March 18, 2020, no vaccine candidates have completed clinical trials.

Cocaine cure

Several viral tweets purporting that snorting cocaine would sterilize one's nostrils of the coronavirus spread around Europe and Africa. In response, the French Ministry of Health released a PSA debunking this claim, as did the World Health Organisation.[104]

African resistance

Beginning on February 11, reports, quickly spread via Facebook, implied that a Cameroonian student in China had been completely cured of the virus due to his African genetics. While a student was successfully treated, other media sources have noted that no evidence implies Africans are more resistant to the virus and labeled such claims as false information.[105] Kenyan Secretary of Health Mutahi Kagwe explicitly refuted rumors that "those with black skin cannot get coronavirus", while announcing Kenya's first case on March 13.[106]


In February 2020, BBC reported that conspiracy theorists on social media groups alleged a link between coronavirus and 5G mobile networks, claiming that Wuhan and Diamond Princess outbreaks were directly caused by electromagnetic fields and the introduction of 5G and wireless technologies. Some conspiracy theorists also alleged that the coronavirus outbreak was cover-up for a 5G-related illness.[107] In March 2020, Thomas Cowan, a holistic medical practitioner who trained as a physician and operates on probation with Medical Board of California, alleged that coronavirus is caused by 5G, based on the claims that African countries were not affected significantly by the pandemic and Africa was not a 5G region.[108][109] Cowan also falsely alleged that the viruses were wastes from cells that are poisoned by electromagnetic fields and historical viral pandemics coincided with the major developments in radio technology.[109] The video of his allegations went viral;[108][109] both the claims and the video, which were endorsed by singer Keri Hilson, were criticized on social media and debunked by Reuters,[110] USA Today,[111] Full Fact[112] and American Public Health Association executive director Georges C. Benjamin.[108][113]

Respirators are ineffective

Many medical experts, including the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams in February 2020 or Alanna Shaikh in March 2020 implored people not to buy or use respirators (face masks) in public claiming that they are not effective.[114][115][116][117] Their advice went against public epidemiological measures, past and future.[118][119][114][120]


Hundreds of pets in China and elsewhere have been abandoned under the misbelief that common household pets, like dogs and cats, can get infected and spread the disease.[121][122][123] There is little evidence that supports that dogs can get infected with the virus and spread it, however, dogs may get contaminated with the virus.[124][125][126][127]


Iran has reported methanol consumption incidents under the false belief that it would cure or protect against coronavirus;[128] bootleg alcohols that contain methanol, which is an industrial alcohol, were often consumed since alcohol is banned in Iran.[129] As a result, more than 300 people have died from methanol poisoning. Coronavirus-related methanol consumption incidents were associated with a British tabloid story on whiskey and honey as an alleged coronavirus remedy, as well as false associations to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.[128][129][130]

Similar incidents have occurred in Turkey, with 30 Turkmen citizens dying from methanol poisoning related to coronavirus.[131][132]

Incorrect ways to kill, prevent or make self-tests for the coronavirus

Widely circulated posts on social media have falsely claimed that, among other things:

  • 'consuming boiled ginger with an empty stomach can kill the coronavirus',[133]
  • 'drinking lemon with water can be used to prevent the coronavirus and cancer, as it increases vitamin C levels',[134]
  • 'holding one's breath for 10 seconds is an effective self-test for the coronavirus',[135]
  • 'hot saunas and hair dryers can kill the coronavirus',[136]
  • 'an ancient Sri Lankan drink can prevent the coronavirus'[137]
  • 'Turmeric and LifeBuoy brand soap'[138]
  • UV-C light, chlorine, and high (over 56 °C) temperatures can be used on humans to kill the coronavirus.[139]

All of the above claims have been disproven. For example, Ginger has not been proven to cure any viral illness, and vitamin C has also not been proven to be effective against the coronavirus.

Country-based misinformation


In Brazil, a video was widely shared claiming that vinegar was more effective than hand sanitiser against the coronavirus. That was disproved, as "there is no evidence that acetic acid is effective against the virus" and, even if there was, "its concentration in common household vinegar is low".[140]

Chloroform and ether based drug loló was said to cure the disease in messages spread in Brazil. Other so called cures in messages spreading in Brazil were avocado and mint tea, hot whiskey and honey, essential oils, vitamins C and D,[141] fennel tea (supposedly similar to the medicine Tamiflu, according to a false e-mail attributed to a hospital director) and cocaine.[142]


Since its third version, the COVID management guidelines from the National Health Commission recommends using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat the disease.[143] Various national and party-held Chinese media heavily advertised an "overnight research" report by Wuhan Institute of Virology and Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, on how shuanghuanglian, an herb mixture from TCM, can effectively inhibit the novel coronavirus. The report has led to a purchase craze of shuanghuanglian.[144]

In Wuhan, the local authorities have pushed for a set of TCM prescriptions to be used for every case since early February.[145][146] One formula was promoted at the national level by mid February.[147] The local field hospitals were explicitly TCM-oriented. According to state-owned media, as of March 16, 2020, 91.91% of all Hubei patients have used TCM, with the rate reaching 99% in field hospitals and 94% in bulk quarantine areas.[148]


On February 27, 2020, the Estonian Minister of the Interior Mart Helme stated at a government press conference that the common cold had been renamed as the coronavirus and that in his youth nothing like that existed. He recommended wearing warm socks and mustard patches as well as spreading goose fat on one's chest as treatments for the virus. Helme also said that the virus would pass within a few days to a week just like the common cold.[149]


Despite the coronavirus outbreak, the Church of Greece announced that the Holy Communion, in which churchgoers eat pieces of bread soaked in wine from the same chalice, will continue as a practice.[150] The Holy Synod stated that the Holy Communion "cannot be the cause of the spread of illness", with Metropolitan Seraphim saying that the wine was without blemish because it represented the blood and body of Christ, and that "whoever attends Holy Communion is approaching God, who has the power to heal".[150]

New Democracy MP Elena Rapti also said that she was going and that if there was deep faith, the Communion was healing.[151] The Church furthermore refused to restrict Christians from taking the Holy Communion.[152] In public statements, several clerics urged worshippers to continue taking part in the Holy Communion, justifying it by saying that Jesus never got sick,[153] while the Bishop of Piraeus Seraphim announced that only those who took part in masses without true faith could be affected.[151] There were furthermore reports that the CoVid 19 hotline was informing concerned believers that there was no risk of contagion at the sacrament.[151]

Some high-profile Greek medical doctors publicly supported the continuation of practicing Holy Communion, causing a sharp reaction by the Greek Association of Hospital Doctors.[154] Eleni Giamarellou, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Athens, announced that there was no danger, and that she was accepting communion with faith in God, so she could not become infected.[151] The Greek Association of Hospital Doctors criticized these professionals for putting their religious beliefs before science.[154]

It was also reported that a right-wing populist party leader of the party Greek Solution, Kyriakos Velopoulos, sells a hand cream via his TV shop, which supposedly would completely kill COVID-19, although the alleged miracle drug is not approved by medical authorities.[151]


Political activist Swami Chakrapani and Member of the Legislative Assembly Suman Haripriya claimed that drinking cow urine and applying cow dung on the body can cure coronavirus.[155][156] WHO's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan rubbished such claims and criticized these politicians for spreading misinformation.[157] Parliamentarian Ramesh Bidhuri of Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that as per experts using Namaste as a greeting prevents contamination from the Covid-19, but using Arabic greetings like Adab or As-salamu alaykum does not as it directs the air into the mouth.[158][159] Misinformation that the government is spreading "anti-corona" drug in the country during Janata curfew, a stay-at-home curfew enforced in India, went viral on social media.[160] The vibration generated by clapping together during Janata curfew will kill the virus was debunked by the media.[161] One viral message says that the lifetime of coronavirus is only 12 hours and staying home for 14 hours during Janata curfew break the chain of transmission.[162] Another message claimed that observing Janata curfew will result in the reduction of coronavirus cases by 40%.[162]


Following the first reported case of COVID-19 in Nigeria on February 28, untested cures and treatments began to spread via platforms like WhatsApp.[163]

South Korea

South Korean "conservative populist" Jun Kwang-hun told his followers that there was no risk to mass public gatherings as the virus was impossible to contract outdoors. Many of his followers are elderly.[164]

On 17 March, around 79 church devotees were infected with the virus at the River of Grace Community Church after followers had salt-water sprayed into their mouths under the belief that this would protect them from the virus.[165][166]

United States

Snake oil products

Some QAnon proponents, including Jordan Sather, and others, have promoted gargling "Miracle Mineral Supplement" (actually bleach) as a way of preventing or curing the disease. The Food and Drug Administration has warned multiple times that drinking MMS is "dangerous" as it may cause "severe vomiting" and "acute liver failure".[167]

In February 2020, televangelist Jim Bakker promoted a colloidal silver solution sold on his website, as a remedy for coronavirus COVID-19; naturopath Sherrill Sellman, a guest on his show, falsely stated that it "hasn't been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it's been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours."[168] The US Food and Drug Administration and New York Attorney General's office both issued cease-and-desist orders against Bakker, and he was sued by the state of Missouri over the sales.[169][170] The New York Attorney General's office also issued a cease-and-desist order to radio host Alex Jones, who was selling silver-infused toothpaste that he falsely claimed can kill the virus and had been verified by federal officials,[171] causing a Jones spokesman to deny the products had been sold for the purpose of treating any disease.[172]

Another televangelist, Kenneth Copeland, claimed on Victory channel during a programme called "Standing Against Coronavirus", that he can cure television viewers of COVID-19 directly from the TV studio. The viewers had to touch the television screen to receive the spiritual healing.[173][174]

The FBI arrested actor Keith Lawrence Middlebrook for selling a fake COVID-19 cure.[175]

Behavior of virus and efficacy of disinfectants

Claims that hand sanitiser is merely "antibacterial not antiviral", and therefore not effective against the coronavirus, have spread widely on Twitter and other social networks, not only in the US but also elsewhere. While the effectiveness of sanitiser depends on the specific ingredients, most hand sanitiser sold commercially does kill the coronavirus.[176]

In March 2020, the Miami New Times reported that managers at Norwegian Cruise Line had prepared a set of responses intended to convince wary customers to book cruises, including "blatantly false" claims that the coronavirus "can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise", that "[s]cientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the [c]oronavirus", and that the virus "cannot live in the amazingly warm and tropical temperatures that your cruise will be sailing to."[177] Scientists caution that this is possible, but not guaranteed.[178][179][180]

Claims of foreknowledge

Claims that The Simpsons had predicted the coronavirus pandemic in 1993, accompanied by a doctored screenshot from the show (where the text "Corona Virus" was layered over the original text "Apocalypse Meow", without blocking it from view), were later found out to be false, with the claim being widely spread on social media.[181][182]


A fake Costco product recall notice circulated on social media purporting that Kirkland-brand bath tissue had been contaminated with COVID-19 [sic] due to the item being made in China. No evidence supports that SARS-CoV 2 can survive for prolonged periods of time (like what might happen during shipping) on surfaces, and Costco has not issued such a recall.[183][184][185]


On February 27, 2020, María Alejandra Díaz [es], a member of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, promoted a recipe that she claimed would cure COVID-19. The recipe consisted of ingredients often purported to prevent and cure colds, including lemon grass, elder, ginger, black pepper, lemon and honey. Díaz also described the virus as a bioterrorism weapon.[186]

Misinformation by governments

American government

US President Donald Trump and his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow have been accused of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. On February 25, Trump said, "I think that whole situation will start working out. We're very close to a vaccine."[187][188][189][190] At the time, SARS-CoV-2 had been "community-spreading" in the United States undetected for weeks,[191] and new vaccine development may require a minimum of a year to prove safety and efficacy to gain regulatory approval.[192] In an interview with Sean Hannity on March 4, Trump also claimed that the death rate published by the WHO is false (that the correct fatality rate was less than 1 percent, and said, "Well, I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number."),[193][194][195] that the potential impact of the outbreak is exaggerated by Democrats plotting against him, and that it is safe for infected individuals to go to work.[196][197] In a later tweet, Trump denied he made claims regarding infected individuals going to work, despite footage from the interview.[197]

The White House has accused the media of intentionally stoking fears of the virus to destabilize the administration.[198] The Stat News reported that "President Trump and members of his administration have also said that US containment of the virus is 'close to airtight' and that the virus is only as deadly as the seasonal flu. Their statements range from false to unproven, and in some cases, underestimate the challenges that public health officials must contend with in responding to the virus."[199] Around the same time that the "airtight" claim was made, SARS-CoV-2 was already past containment because the first case of community spread of the virus was confirmed, and it was spreading faster than severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus with a case fatality rate at least seven times the fatality rate for seasonal flu.[200][201][202]

On March 2, Trump told the media that he had heard that a COVID-19 vaccine would be available in "a matter of months", with "a year [being] an outside number". This came right after Trump attended a discussion where his senior health official Anthony Fauci told him it would actually take "a year to a year and a half" (at a minimum, Fauci later said). During that discussion, Trump repeatedly quizzed the leaders of pharmaceutical companies on the time needed to produce vaccines, stating: "I like the sound of a couple of months better". The length of time required is due to vaccines requiring multiple rounds of tests before being approved for the public's use.[203]

On March 4, Trump wrongly blamed the Barack Obama administration for making "a decision" that delayed COVID-19 testing by the Trump administration. The policy in question had never been modified by the Obama administration, despite plans to do so. The policy's overall legal roots date to 2004, before the Obama administration. Under the umbrella of Emergency Use Authorizations, the old policy stated that laboratory-developed tests "should not be used for clinical diagnoses without FDA's approval, clearance, or authorization during an emergency declaration". However, this policy was historically treated as a recommendation and generally unenforced, with no clear legal authority of the FDA in this area. The Trump administration continued to require laboratories to apply to the FDA for approval, but allowed the laboratories to test while the FDA processed the applications.[204]

On March 6, Trump over-promised on the availability of COVID-19 testing in the United States, claiming that: "Anybody that wants a test can get a test." Firstly, there were criteria needed to qualify for a test; recommendations were needed from doctors or health officials to approve testing. Secondly, the lack of test supplies resulted in some being denied tests even though doctors wanted to test them.[205][206]

On March 19, Trump falsely claimed that the drug chloroquine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for COVID-19. This led the FDA to state that it had not approved any drugs or therapies for COVID-19. While Trump claimed that "we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately", the leader of the FDA stated that the drug would still need to be tested in a "large, pragmatic clinical trial" on subjects infected with COVID-19.[207] While Trump promoted chloroquine as a potential "game changer", senior health official Anthony Fauci stated that positive results thus far were still based on "anecdotal evidence" and not "definitive" evidence from clinical trials.[208] Trump also remarked that re-purposing existing drugs for COVID-19 is "safe" and "not killing people" (chloroquine is a form of treatment for malaria, while its derivative hydroxychloroquine is a form of treatment for lupus or arthritis), however most drugs may cause side effects.[209] Potentially serious side effects from chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine include irregular heartbeats, tinnitus, blurred vision, muscle weakness or "mental changes".[209][210] Overdoses of these drugs have been documented in scientific literature, including fatal overdoses.[209] Demand for chloroquine in Lagos, Nigeria sharply increased after Trump's comments, with three people overdosing by March 23.[211] A married couple in their 60s living in the state of Arizona ingested a fish tank cleaner product containing chloroquine phosphate; the man died while the woman survived in critical condition. The woman stated that they intended to self-medicate against the coronavirus after hearing Trump tout the potential benefits of chloroquine during a public briefing.[212][213]

On March 21, Trump addressed a shortage of ventilator supply in the United States, claiming that carmaker companies General Motors and Ford "are making them right now". The companies were in fact not producing ventilators. The Associated Press news agency estimated it would take at least several months for the carmaker companies to change their factories' production abilities.[214]

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, claimed that it was a misperception that the disease “hangs in the air" as it " takes direct person-to-person contact”, “If you’re under 50 and you’re healthy, (...) there’s very little threat". He pledged to keep schools open, even if pupils are sick. He declined to cancel St. Patrick’s Day parade and then did. He resisted calls to cancel regular street sweeping and then did. He gave wrong instructions during a photo-op public 311 call.[215]

Chinese government

Relating to government's mishandling of crisis

Whistleblowing from various Chinese doctors, including Li Wenliang on December 30, 2019 revealed that Wuhan hospital authorities were already aware that the virus was a SARS-like coronavirus and patients were already placed under quarantine.[216] The Wuhan Health Commission still insisted that the illness spreading in Wuhan at the time was not SARS on January 5, 2020.[217]

In the early stages of the outbreak, the Chinese National Health Commission said that they had no "clear evidence" of human-to-human transmissions.[218] Later research published on January 20, 2020 indicated that among officially confirmed cases, human-to-human transmission may have started in December of the previous year, and the delay of disclosure on the results until then, rather than earlier in January, was met with criticism towards health authorities.[218] Wang Guangfa, one of the health officials, said that "There was uncertainty regarding the human-to-human transmission",[219] but he was infected by a patient within 10 days of making the statement.[219][220]

On January 27, 2020, the Daily Beast reported the editor of state-owned People's Daily tweeted an image of a modular container building used for marketing purposes by Henan K-Home Steel Structure Co., Ltd. and not of the actual hospital. The tweet stated that the 1st building of the Huoshenshan Hospital had been completed in 16 hours. Some claim this post is part of the Chinese government's misinformation campaign to hype certain aspects of the government's response.[221] The tweet was later removed and replaced with a video of the modular container buildings being assembled at Huoshenshan Hospital again stating the first building had been completed in 16 hours.[222]

On February 15, 2020, China's paramount leader and Party general secretary Xi Jinping published an article which claimed he had been aware of the epidemic since January 7, 2020 and issued an order to contain the spread of the disease during a meeting on that day. However, a record of that same meeting released beforehand shows that there was zero mention of the epidemic throughout.[223][224]

Relating to origin of virus

In response to the outbreak Chinese government officials launched a coordinated disinformation campaign seeking to spread doubt about the origin of the coronavirus and its outbreak.[225][226] A review of Chinese state media and social media posts in early March 2020, conducted by the Washington Post, found that anti-American conspiracy theories circulating among Chinese users "gained steam through a mix of unexplained official statements magnified by social media, censorship and doubts stoked by state media and government officials."[227] U.S. Department of State officials,[228] as well as University of Chicago political science professor Dali Yang, an authority on Chinese politics, have stated that the "Chinese campaign" appears intended to deflect attention away from the Chinese government's mishandling of the crisis.[227]

At a press conference on March 12, 2020, two spokesmen for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Zhao Lijian and Geng Shuang) promoted the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus had been "bio-engineered" by Western powers; and suggested that the U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Army, had spread the virus.[64][226] No evidence supports these claims.[226][229] Zhao also pushed these conspiracy theories on Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China but is used as a public diplomacy tool by Chinese officials, who use the platform to promote the Chinese government and defend it against criticism.[226] China's ambassador to South Africa also amplified these claims on Twitter.[225][230] Other Chinese online posts have criticized the Japanese and Italian governments,[227] and Chinese state media has incorrectly implied that the virus may have originated in Italy.[231][232]

An "intentional disinformation campaign" by China was discussed among the Group of Seven (G7),[233] and the Chinese efforts were condemned by the U.S. Department of State,[225] who criticized Chinese authorities for spreading "dangerous and ridiculous" conspiracy claims.[228] The U.S. summoned China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, to issue a "stern representation" over the Chinese government's claims.[228]

Relating to statistics on fatalities

On March 27, 2020, doubts were raised about the accuracy of Chinese data relating to the official death toll of 2,535 in Wuhan as Chinese news outlet Caixin published photos of a truck unloading 2,500 boxed funeral urns arriving from Hankou funeral home and a further 3,500 boxed funeral urns inside Jingya Hall. People collecting ashes faced large wait times because of poor communication, a lack of enough staff and the quantity of ashes that had to be searched to located the correct box. It is alleged that this shows that many people who have died with COVID-19 symptoms but were not tested and those who have died of other heath complications due to an overloaded medical system have been excluded from any official death counts.[234][235] It is unclear how many funeral urns have any relation to COVID-19 victims as official records show in last quarter (Q4 2019) there were 56,007 cremations in Wuhan.[236]

Iranian government

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has suggested the U.S. government is responsible for the spread of coronavirus.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the U.S. created "a special version" of the virus that was affecting the country.[237]

Cuban government

In Cuba, Cuban president Miguel Díaz Canel claimed on Twitter that Cuban Interferon alfa-2b was being used to treat and cure COVID-19 in China, linking to an article written by state-owned newspaper Granma.[1] The Chinese embassy in Cuba also made similar claims. Several Latin American news outlets[238][239] relayed the story, which was also relayed on social media, and the claims were eventually translated to Portuguese and French.[240] In reality, the interferon was made by a Chinese company, in China, using Cuban technology, and it was under clinical trials in China as a potential cure, but it was not actively being used as such, as the claims suggested.[240]

Russian government

The European Union watchdog group EUvsDisinfo reported that Russia was pushing what they believe was false information related to the SARS-2 pandemic through "pro-Kremlin outlets".[241] On March 18, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced findings.[242]

Misinformation by criminals

The UN WHO has warned of criminal scams involving perpetrators who misrepresent themselves as representatives of the WHO seeking personal information from victims via email or phone.[243]

Cybersecurity firm Check Point stated there has been a large increase in phishing attacks to lure victims into unwittingly installing a computer virus under the guise of coronavirus-themed emails containing attachments. Cyber-criminals use deceptive domains such as "" instead of the correct "", or even spoof the original domain so it resembles specific websites. Over 4,000 coronavirus-related domains have been registered.[244]

Police in New Jersey, United States reported incidents of criminals knocking on people's doors and claiming to be from the CDC. They then attempt to sell products at inflated prices or otherwise scam victims under the guise of educating and protecting the public from the coronavirus.[245]

Links that purportedly direct to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map, but instead direct to a false site that spreads malware have been circulating on the Internet.[246]


Bat eating

Some media outlets, including Daily Mail and RT, as well as individuals spread misinformation by circulating a video that showed a young Chinese woman eating a bat and falsely suggesting that it was shot in Wuhan.[247][248] The widely circulated video contains unrelated footage of a Chinese travel vlogger, Wang Mengyun, eating bat soup in the island country of Palau in 2016.[247][248][249][250] Wang posted an apology on Weibo,[249][250] in which she said that she had received threats,[249] and that she had only wanted to showcase Palauan cuisine.[249][250] The spread of misinformation about eating bats is rooted in xenophobic and racist sentiment toward Asians.[251][252] Scientists suggest that the virus originated in bats and migrated into an intermediary host animal before infecting people.[253]

Vegetarian immunity

Some organizations, including PETA, and individuals made false claims on social media that eating meat made people susceptible to the virus.[253]

In India, a false rumour spread online alleging that only people who eat meat were affected by coronavirus, causing "#NoMeat_NoCoronaVirus" to trend on Twitter.[254]

Corona beer mis-association

A poll was released showing that 38% of American beer-drinkers have refused to drink Corona-brand beer.[255][256] This statistic is not considered a reliable indication of an American belief that drinking the beer causes the virus, even though assumptions have been made along this line in the media and among the public.[257][258] There is no link between the virus and the beer brand.[256][257]

Environment and wildlife

During the pandemic, many false and misleading images or news reports about the environmental impact of the coronavirus pandemic were shared by clickbait journalism sources and social media.

A viral post that originated on Weibo and spread on Twitter claimed that a pack of elephants descended on a village under quarantine in China's Yunnan, got drunk on corn wine, and passed out in a tea garden.[259] The state-owned China News Service debunked the claim that the elephants got drunk on corn wine and noted that wild elephants were a common sight in the village; the image attached to the post was originally taken at the Asian Elephant Research Center in Yunnan in December 2019.[260]

Following reports of reduced pollution levels in Italy as a result of lockdowns, images purporting to show swans and dolphins swimming in Venice canals went viral on social media. The image of the swans was revealed to have been taken in Burano, where swans are common, while footage of the dolphins was filmed at a port in Sardinia hundreds of miles away.[260] The Venice mayor's office clarified that the reported water clarity in the canals was due to the lack of sediment being kicked up by boat traffic, not due to a lack of water pollution that was initially reported.[261]

Following the lockdown of India, a video clip purporting to show the extremely rare Malabar civet (a critically endangered, possibly extinct species) walking the empty streets of Meppayur went viral on social media. Experts later identified the civet in the video as actually being the much more common small Indian civet.[262]

See also


1.^ Granma is owned by the ruling political party in Cuba, the Communist Party of Cuba.


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