People line up at a COVID-19 coronavirus testing station at Bondi Beach in Sydney on April 1, 2020. (AFP / PETER PARKS)

Australian health authorities dismiss hoax claim about 'rescue packs' for vulnerable patients

Multiple Facebook and Twitter posts shared thousands of times by Australian social media users claim that people with pre-existing respiratory conditions will be given a “rescue pack” of medication from their general practitioners during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The claim is false; Australia’s Department of Health dismissed the rumour as “misinformation”, adding that patients will not receive “rescue packs” from their doctors unless previously prescribed.

The claim has been shared more than 2,000 times after it was published by an Australia-based Facebook user here on March 22, 2020. 

The post reads: “Those of you with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as COPD or asthma can contact your GP for a 'Rescue Pack'. It gives you a 5 day supply of a corticosteroid (prednisolone) and a 5 day supply of an antibiotic (usually amoxicillin or doxycycline) which can be started immediately if you develop any breathing issues.” 

The claim circulated online as the world continued to endure the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 2, 2020, the virus has killed more than 40,000 people and infected more than 827,000 others worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post: 

The claim was also shared here, here, here and here on Facebook, and here, here, here and here on Twitter. 

The claim is false. 

“The Department of Health has been made aware of misinformation on social media regarding ‘rescue packs’ that contain steroid and antibiotic tablets being made available for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” a department spokesperson told AFP in an email on April 1. “Patients cannot receive a ‘rescue pack’ from their GP, unless previously prescribed.”

The spokesperson added: “It is imperative for people with respiratory conditions to follow the health advice and management plan of their treating physician, and for everyone to be aware of false information that is sometimes posted on social media.” 

People with pre-existing medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes, are at greater risk for severe disease such as novel coronavirus, the WHO warned. The agency advised good hygiene, social distancing and other preventive measures as the novel coronavirus continues to spread globally. 

Health authorities in the United Kingdom and Ireland also debunked a similar rumour after it circulated online in their countries.