Coronavirus: Fake cures, risky rumors and misinformation hit home

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And a man died in the US from taking a form of chloroquine — hailed by President Donald Trump as a potential ‘gift from God’ remedy — after he took a form of the drug his wife had used to treat her pet fish. (AFP file photo)
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People walk past a sign reading “coronavirus — I check my sources before sharing news” to warn people about fake news concerning the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak in Abidjan on March 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

Coronavirus: Fake cures, risky rumors and misinformation hit home

  • Rumors and false claims are fueling confusion and deepening the economic misery
  • The rapid spread of information online means that when scientists discuss as-yet unproven theories, anxious patients can take unnecessary risks

HONG KONG: From being duped into taking poisonous “cures,” to watching businesses crumble and avoiding life-saving medication, people are suffering devastating real-world impacts of a deluge of online virus misinformation.
As the new coronavirus that has killed more than 20,000 people causes markets to crash and sets scientists scrambling for a solution, rumors and false claims are fueling confusion and deepening the economic misery.
The effects can be tragic — in Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries, more than 210 people died from drinking toxic alcohol after claims circulated online that it could treat or ward off COVID-19, the official Irna news agency reported.
Dangerous fake cures debunked by AFP include consuming volcanic ash and fighting infection with UV lamps or chlorine disinfectants, which health authorities say can harm the body if used incorrectly.
Another remedy that “kills the coronavirus,” according to misleading social media posts, is drinking silver particles in liquid, known as colloidal silver.
“I am making colloidal silver now. I have asthma and does it really work... worried/stressed over virus. Does this help if I take a teaspoon a day. New to this...” said a post by a user named Michelle in a public Facebook group, alongside a photo of a jar of water with a metal rod in it.
The side effects of taking colloidal silver can include a bluish-grey skin discoloration and poor absorption of some medicines including antibiotics, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
But this has not put some people off. An Australian man who said he regularly buys the concoction told AFP it had “sold out in my town ... but before the virus, I could always get some.”
Cocaine and bleach-like solutions are also among the risky fake cures touted online. “No, cocaine does NOT protect against #COVID-19,” the French government tweeted in response.
As panic buying leaves supermarket shelves empty around the world, some Indian traders and farmers have had the opposite problem — people shunning their products due to false information.
Retailers in Delhi told AFP they had stocked up on Chinese-made goods such as toy guns, wigs and other colorful accessories ahead of Holi festival earlier this month.
But “misinformation about Chinese products — that they might transmit coronavirus — caused a downfall in the sales of Holi goods. We witnessed a reduction in sales of around 40 percent compared to previous year,” said Vipin Nijhawan from the Toy Association of India.
The World Health Organization has said the virus does not last long on inanimate surfaces, so it is unlikely imported goods would remain infectious even if contaminated.
The rapid spread of information online means that when scientists discuss as-yet unproven theories, anxious patients can take unnecessary risks.
Confusion has been sparked by letters and theoretical papers published in scientific journals about whether some types of heart medication can raise the chance of developing a serious form of COVID-19.
This has prompted health authorities across Europe and America to advise heart patients — already more at-risk for the disease — to continue taking their drugs.
Carolyn Thomas, who runs a blog for women living with heart disease, said dozens of her readers had contacted her for advice after seeing tweets warning about ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
“Until I get in to see my own cardiologist, I’m still taking my own drugs, even as I wonder if they are increasing my own vulnerability to catching the virus,” Thomas, who is self-isolating at home in Canada, told AFP.
“I’m afraid to take them, yet I’m afraid to stop,” she said.
Professor Garry Jennings, chief medical adviser for Australia’s Heart Foundation, said the theoretical papers were “based on a number of factors which are all disputed” and warned that if patients stopped taking their medication there could be an upshot in heart attacks and deaths.
“In the absence of any other evidence that it’s actually happening, and with the knowledge that these drugs are beneficial... it’s not a good idea to stop,” he said.
And a man died in the US from taking a form of chloroquine — hailed by President Donald Trump as a potential “gift from God” remedy” — after he took a form of the drug his wife had used to treat her pet fish.
The woman told NBC News: “I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?’”
Banner Health, a non-profit health care provider based in Phoenix, said on its website that “a man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks.”


New York cheers arrival of hospital ship as coronavirus cases soar

Updated 44 sec ago

New York cheers arrival of hospital ship as coronavirus cases soar

  • People gathered on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River to cheer the ship’s arrival
  • US health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus

NEW YORK: People cheered the US Navy hospital ship Comfort as it sailed into New York on Monday, a beacon of the national effort to stanch the coronavirus outbreak at its US epicenter as the number of cases soared.
Painted a gleaming white and adorned with giant red crosses, the 1,000-bed converted oil tanker sailed past the Statue of Liberty, accompanied by a flotilla of support ships and helicopters before docking at a Midtown Manhattan pier.
People gathered on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the Hudson River to cheer the ship’s arrival shortly before midday. Some bystanders chanted, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” as the huge vessel neared the pier where it docked.
The Comfort will treat non-coronavirus patients, including those who require surgery and critical care, the Navy said.
“It’s a wartime atmosphere and we all have to pull together,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was among the dignitaries to greet the ship’s arrival. He said preparations for the ship, including dredging, took eight days, much less than the two weeks initially expected.
Hospitals in the city have been overrun with patients suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. New York state accounts for almost half the country’s more than 152,000 cases and more than 40% of its more than 2,800 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
The United States has the most cases in the world.(Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)
To ease the pressure, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Central Park, and the white tents being set up evoked a wartime feel in an island of green typically used by New Yorkers to exercise, picnic and enjoy the first signs of spring.
The makeshift facility, provided by Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, is expected to be ready to accept patients on Tuesday but will not take walk-ins, and admissions and transfers will be managed by Mount Sinai, de Blasio said.
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of the most prominent public figures of the coronavirus crisis, told a news conference later that the state might have to step in to close playgrounds in the country’s most populous city.
He said official efforts to reduce the numbers of people in those public spaces had not been successful.
Cuomo and de Blasio are among a growing chorus of officials who have voiced frustration at President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis and shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment needed to fight the virus in hospitals.
“I am not engaging the president in politics,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said of Trump, a Republican. “My only goal is to engage the president in partnership.”
De Blasio said the death toll in his city would rise if Washington did not provide more assistance soon. “Sunday is D-Day, we need help by Sunday,” he told CNN. The mayor, also a Democrat, later thanked Trump for dispatching the Comfort.
CHILLING NUMBERS
US health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.
“If we do things together well — almost perfectly — we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told NBC’s “Today” show.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top US health official, cited those figures on Sunday as a possible outcome, but Birx’s assessment appeared to suggest the figures could be a floor rather than a ceiling.
The virus has spread from its original epicenters in Washington state, New York and California.
Authorities in New Orleans were setting up a field hospital at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees suffered in 2005 — to handle the expected overflow of patients.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a “stay-at-home” order as cases rose. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday a stay-at-home order for his state.
In nearby Washington, D.C., congressional officials announced that the US Capitol would be closed to the public through April. They had previously said it would be closed until the end of March.
A number of prominent Americans, including several members of Congress, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Renowned country and folk singer John Prine was in stable condition on Monday after being hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, his wife said on Twitter. Prine, a 73-year-old cancer survivor, lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Trump initially played down the risk to Americans, drawing criticism from health officials and political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, front-runner in the Democratic race to challenge Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We allowed the seeds to be planted. And now there is nothing to do but wait for the bloom. A lot of these deaths are already percolating,” said Dana Miller, 61, of Belmont, Massachusetts, a retired US government health policy official.
Trump on Friday signed a $2 trillion package of emergency measures that helped to soothe rattled nerves on Wall Street, where stocks had fallen sharply. Major US stock indexes were up again on Monday.
Trump abandoned a hotly criticized plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April, extending his original 15-day nationwide stay-at-home order for another 30 days, a step that many Americans accepted with resignation.
“I’m sad to be locked inside, but I think it’s for the best,” said Mia Siracusa, 24, a data manager ordered to work out of her apartment in Brooklyn, whose live-in boyfriend is from Italy and whose mother is a New York City hospital nurse.
“I get frustrated when people don’t stay in,” she said. “I am frustrated that our federal government didn’t get a handle on this sooner.”