FactCheck Social Media

PNG COVID-19 outbreak not helped by viral ‘advice’

2021-03-31 16:57:38

The Statement

A Facebook post from Papua New Guinea offers advice on dealing with COVID-19 amid surging case numbers in the Pacific nation.

“We don’t need a lock down, covid is here to stay as any other disease so follow simple rules,” the March 18 post begins.

It goes on to advise people to “treat covid as influenza and do your own remedies if you are tested positive, it is not a killer disease”. The post adds: “I believe people who have died had some other underlying disease as well, don’t panic follow simple rules…”

At the time of writing, the post had been shared more than 70 times, with another example, also from PNG, attracting nearly 19,000 views and more than 70 shares.

A Facebook post
 A Facebook post, being shared in PNG, makes a string of broad claims about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Analysis

The post makes several claims about COVID-19 that are false and have been debunked by medical experts and health authorities.

Papua New Guinea is currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases that has “stretched” the island nation’s medical capacity. As of March 30, PNG had recorded 5620 cases of the virus and 56 deaths.

The country’s prime minister, James Marape, said there was “rampant community transmission” of COVID-19 across PNG and he appealed to “rumour-mongers” to stop spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

The Facebook post advises people to “treat covid as influenza”, however while the diseases share some similar symptoms they are caused by different viruses and can result in dramatically different outcomes.

As previously explained by AAP FactCheck, COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate than influenza and other dangerous characteristics such as the potential for long incubation and contagion periods.

Wellington epidemiologist Lucy Telfar-Barnard told AAP FactCheck: “The (COVID-19) virus is a different virus, and while there are some overlaps, the two diseases present in different ways. The claim is absolutely false.”

Shane Fairlie, a communications consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific region told AAP FactCheck in an email: “Comparisons have been drawn between COVID-19 and influenza. Both cause respiratory disease, yet there are significant differences between the two viruses. This has important implications, including for health care, diagnostics, vaccinations, patient care and virus spread.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than influenza and causes more serious illness in some people.

The post also recommends doing “your own remedies” should anyone test positive.

The WHO’s official advice on dealing with the virus is to isolate sick people within a household and monitor their symptoms, paying special attention if the person is at high risk for serious illness. The WHO also recommends contacting a medical provider immediately if a patient shows any signs of difficulty breathing, confusion, chest pain or loss of speech or mobility.

The WHO’s COVID-19 mythbusters page debunks popular “home remedies” that can purportedly be used for curing or preventing coronavirus such as drinking alcohol or bleach, eating garlic or adding hot peppers to food. A range of medical treatments are commonly used to treat those with serious cases of the illness.

The PNG health ministry’s COVID-19 awareness page also provides a variety of videos and information on best practices for prevention and treatment.

The post’s statement that COVID-19 “is not a killer disease” is untrue.

As of March 31, there have more than 2.75 million deaths worldwide attributed to the pandemic, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Similarly, the WHO’s dashboard counted more than 2.78 million deaths from 127 million confirmed cases as of March 30.

Mr Fairlie noted that the figures represented a fatality rate of around 2.2 per cent, based on the reported cases.

“As a comparison, the mortality rate for seasonal influenza is usually well below 0.1 per cent. However, mortality for both viruses is determined by a number of factors, including underlying conditions and access to and quality of health care,” he said.

The post also claims that people who died of COVID-19 had “some other underlying disease as well”. AAP FactCheck has previously debunked suggestions that high rates of comorbidities – when another disease or condition is also present in a patient – caused the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths (see here and here).

A view of the town of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.
 PNG is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases that has “stretched” the Pacific island nation. 

The Verdict

The Facebook post incorrectly advises that COVID-19 should be treated as influenza. While both are contagious respiratory illnesses, COVID is caused by infection with a new coronavirus variant that is considered significantly more deadly and has different transmission characteristics.

The post’s advice to use “home remedies” following a positive test is not endorsed by health authorities, while it also wrongly claims that COVID-19 is “not a killer disease”.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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