An old interview with British "conspiracy theorist" David Icke (R) in which he makes false claims about Covid-19 has been shared on social media again. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (AFP / Justin Tallis)

David Icke interview resurfaces with multiple false claims about Covid-19

A video of British author David Icke talking about Covid-19 has been viewed millions of times since it was first published in April 2020, and recently picked up steam again on social media. The hour-long clip shared on Facebook is from a longer video, since removed from YouTube. In the clip, Icke, who is known for promoting conspiracy theories, presents himself as a researcher and claims that the Covid-19 pandemic was orchestrated by supernatural forces attempting to “dismantle” the world economic system and “control” the population using new technologies like 5G. But this popular conspiracy theory is based on false and misleading claims, as several experts told AFP Fact Check.

Icke, a former professional football player, claims to have spent 30 years investigating the people and groups who “really control the world”. He has been the subject of several controversies, including for denying the Holocaust. In May 2020, YouTube and Facebook shut down Icke’s pages for spreading misinformation about Covid-19. A few months later, Twitter also banned him

In April 2020, Icke gave a two-and-a-half-hour interview to the British online channel London Real. The video is dubbed in English, Spanish and French, and subtitled in multiple other languages. At the time, it was shared by several million internet users. 

Shorter clips have resurfaced in December 2020, January 2021 and February 2021 on Facebook in French-language posts. AFP Fact Check has debunked these claims in French here.

A one-hour-long edited clip of Icke’s interview was shared in this English-language post on Facebook on August 27, 2020, and has amassed nearly 2,000 shares since.

“David Icke on coronavirus. He says that there is NO coronavirus and he documents it. Worth to see (sic)”, the post caption reads. 

Screenshot of one of the clips shared on Facebook, taken on March 3, 2021

In the video, Icke claims that a “cult” enforcing “global centralisation of power” created the Covid-19 pandemic to “dismantle” the world economic system, which will result in “mass global dependency on the state”. 

Icke further claims that “they manipulate numbers of contaminations” in order to prolong restrictions until “they get what they want”. 

Many of the claims Icke puts forth in his video have been previously debunked by AFP Fact Check. We look at them in more detail below.

1. RT-PCR test does not detect Covid-19? FALSE

This false claim has been shared since the beginning of the pandemic, fueling theories that the impact of the disease was purposely exaggerated. AFP Fact Check has debunked similar false claims about the accuracy of RT-PCR tests in Australia. 

There are two main tests used to detect the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus; the first one is the serological test, which measures the presence of antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the virus; the second is the molecular test, which looks for genetic sequences specific to the virus by conducting an RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction).

Citing American psychiatrist Andrew Kaufman — who also believes that the pandemic does not exist — Icke claims that the PCR test does not detect Covid-19: “It tests for the genetic material which has loads of different content”, adding that “if one tests positive for (the presence of) this genetic material, you are diagnosed to have Covid-19”.

“When a cell gets poisoned, it secretes exosomes, which is a natural immune system response, then detected by the PCR test, it will be Covid-19 positive,” Icke says. He then claims that cells in the human body can be “poisoned” by various factors like “the toxicity” of the environment, by “electromagnetic fields like 5G” or even simply “by the stress and fear” caused by lockdowns.

He claims that what the tests detect is “a natural response from the body and they call it Covid-19”, asserting in the video that the pandemic is “not real” and that PCR tests only detect “a level of toxicity produced by exosomes”.

However, these claims are false and several experts told AFP Fact Check that the tests used to detect SARS-CoV-2 — the name of the virus that causes Covid-19 — are specific to this virus. 

Vincent Enouf, Deputy Director of the National Reference Center for Respiratory Infection Viruses at France’s Pasteur Institute, told AFP Fact Check on September 8, 2020, that RT-PCR tests, conducted using a nasopharyngeal swab, determine whether a patient is carrying the virus at the time the test is done.

The test looks for “genomic regions that are specific to this virus”, he said. 

Another expert, Juan Carballeda, a researcher at Conicet (Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council) and member of the Argentine Association of Microbiology, told AFP Fact Check that this method “detects the presence of the virus genome without a doubt. If the virus genome is present, it means that the virus is present”.  

Juan Sabatté, a microbiologist, explained in this AFP Fact Check debunk (in Spanish) that the PCR test “detects specific RNA sequences present in the RNA of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which is absent from human RNA or from the RNA from other viruses”. 

It does not detect exosomes which are “small cell fragments, present in all bodily fluids, allowing cells to communicate with each other”, he said.

Also, according to Florencia Menay, a biologist specialising in exosomes at Conicet, the virus “has the capacity to spread and is infectious, while exosomes are not infectious and do not spread”.

2. Inventor of the test says PCRs do not detect infectious diseases? MISSING CONTEXT 

The PCR test has been used since 1983 to detect multiple diseases. Its inventor, Kary B. Mullis, was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993.

Mullis, a controversial figure in the scientific community, died on August 7, 2019, at the age of 75. He was convinced that HIV was not the cause of the disease AIDS, but his claims pertained only to HIV and not all infectious diseases.  

AFP Fact Check was unable to find the statement that Icke attributed to Mullis in his video; however, in an article about AIDS published in 1996, Mullis is quoted as saying that “quantitative PCR is an oxymoron” and that “PCR is intended to identify substances qualitatively, but by its very nature is unsuited for estimating numbers”. 

Today, PCR tests are used to detect the genome (all genetic material) of SARS-CoV-2, which was sequenced just two months after it was found in Wuhan, China in December 2019, while the genome sequencing of HIV was completed only in 2009.

However, the claim that the tests are not designed to precisely determine the amount of virus present in the sample is correct.

Today’s modern RT-PCR tests give an approximate order of magnitude of the sample’s viral load (such as “moderate” or “high”), according to complex criteria and subject to the interpretation of an expert. This order of magnitude alone does not determine the patient’s virality or the intensity of his or her symptoms.

3. Microscope images of exosomes and of the virus that causes Covid-19 are “exactly the same”? FALSE

Early on in the video, Icke again refers to the American psychiatrist Kaufman and claims he has discovered that exosomes look “exactly the same” under a microscope as the virus that causes Covid-19.

In a YouTube video from April 25, 2020, Kenneth Witwer, associate professor of molecular and comparative pathobiology, neurology, and cellular and molecular medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains why this claim “is nonsense”. 

Contacted by AFP Fact Check on July 15, 2020, Witwer explained in an email that “an extracellular vesicle (EV) is a particle with a lipid bilayer and cytoplasmic contents that cannot replicate like a cell (...) and an exosome is an EV, usually a small one, that is released from an internal compartment of the cell”. 

“An enveloped virus, of which there are many thousands including retroviruses like HIV, coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2, and flaviviruses like yellow fever virus, could be seen as a special type of EV that is produced by a cell under the influence of a foreign genetic programme,” he added. “So at a very basic level, any enveloped virus could be considered an EV (a viral EV, if you will), not just the Covid-19 virus SARS-CoV-2.” 

Witwer refuted Icke’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 is just an exosome produced during a natural immune system response. 

“A virus (or viral EV) can be easily separated from a regular host EV by looking at its external and internal structures by high-quality electron microscopy,” said Witwer, highlighting the fact that viruses tend to have “more structure and electron density than host EVs”.

According to Argentinian biologist Florencia Menay, exosomes are very small, around 100 nanometers, a size similar to certain viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, “SARS-CoV-2 is surrounded by a lipid membrane, just like exosomes”, she said. 

Menay pointed out that the novel coronavirus has “small peaks” (growths) formed by the protein “spike”, which gives it its characteristic crown shape. Meanwhile, an exosome is “a sphere surrounded by a uniform membrane without the presence of these spikes nor the shape of a crown”, she explained.

Screenshot from Witwer’s YouTube video, taken on March 3, 2021

4. Anyone with flu-like symptoms is diagnosed with Covid-19? FALSE

In the video, Icke claimed that “flu-like” symptoms can be due to a “great range of different causes”. He further claimed that the numbers of Covid-19 cases “got bigger and bigger” due to diagnoses based simply on “flu-like symptoms or just a cough”. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the presence of symptoms resembling those of the novel coronavirus only makes a person a suspected case, not a confirmed case. 

In order to diagnose a person with Covid-19, “it must be confirmed by a laboratory, regardless of clinical signs and symptoms”.

European standards require the presence of two or more symptoms (fever, cough, pain in the throat, breathing difficulties in particular) for a person to be considered a suspected case, but this does not imply a positive Covid-19 result. Only a PCR test can confirm the presence of the virus. 

It is important to note the similarities and differences between the flu (influenza) and Covid-19.

“It is not the same disease,” explained Didier Cataldo, president of the Belgian Respiratory Society on January 19, 2021, in this AFP Fact Check debunk (in French). He said that “the flu can give pulmonary attacks, however, it is more common in Covid cases”.

“Covid-19 is not a new flu, it’s another serious disease,” he concluded. 

In July 2020, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) released a table, based on data collected from the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to help people differentiate between influenza, Covid-19, allergies and asthma.

Screenshot from the AAFA table comparing different symptoms

While some of the symptoms are similar, the SARS-Cov-2 virus causes more severe illness and more deaths compared to the flu. 

A study published in December 2020 by The Lancet compared data collected from 130,000 patients hospitalised with seasonal flu and Covid-19. The study concluded that the mortality rate of Covid-19 patients was three times higher than those hospitalised with the flu. 

Global pandemics always follow the introduction of new technologies? FALSE

In the interview, Icke invokes this theory, citing American author and anti-airwaves activist Arthur Firstenberg, to claim that “every time there has been a major global pandemic, since the Spanish flu of 1918, it was preceded by the introduction of a new level of radiation generated by technology”. Icke claims that there would therefore be a direct link between Covid-19 and the deployment of 5G technology, which was “introduced in 2019”.

As AFP Fact Check previously explained in this debunk, this claim is false. There is no direct link between the introduction of new technologies and global pandemics, starting with the Spanish flu of 1918, as the discovery of radio waves, attributed among others to the Italian Guillermo Marconi, came much earlier. Marconi had successfully established telegraph links as early as 1895 in the Swiss Alps.

Contacted by AFP Fact Check, experts stressed that there is no scientific evidence that 5G networks caused the Covid-19 pandemic, nor that past technological advances could not have been the cause of pandemics.

According to Dr. Julio Bonis, a member of the Medical College of Madrid, “there is no evidence” that a virus can spread due to new technologies. The correlation between an outbreak of a disease and a technological development “has no scientific basis, it is a fallacious correlation”, he said.

To highlight the fallacy of these hypotheses, Bonis pointed to the multitude of possible correlations “between the films in which Nicolas Cage appears and the number of deaths by drowning in American swimming pools”.

Experts have also concluded that there was no proof that mobile phone technologies could cause cancer or be harmful. “Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G,” underlined the WHO.

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