Italy's health ministry rejects online “hoax” about virus origin

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim that the novel coronavirus disease is caused by bacteria and can be cured with household painkillers. The posts also claim that Italian doctors found a cure for COVID-19. Both claims are false; Italy's health ministry told AFP Fact Check that the posts were “a hoax”. No cure has been found for the disease.

One post shared more than 1,000 times and archived here makes multiple claims, including that “Italian doctors, disobeyed the world health law WHO, not to do autopsies on the dead of the Coronavirus and they found that it is NOT a VIRUS but a BACTERIA that causes death”. The post attributes the information to “Italy ministry of health”.

The post has been made into a video shared widely on WhatsApp in Nigeria. The video is simply a text-to-speech dictation from the false post with still and moving images. AFP Fact Check found the same video on Facebook, where it has been viewed thousands of times. We’ve archived some of the posts here, here and here.  

A screenshot taken on June 8, 2020 showing the misleading video

Similar claims have been shared here, here, here, and alongside a different video viewed more than 1,000 times on Facebook.

It’s a hoax

A spokeswoman for the Italian health ministry told AFP Fact Check on June 3, 2020, that the viral post “is a hoax”.

Experts around the world have found that COVID-19 -- which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year -- is caused by a virus rather than bacteria. Scientists at Oxford University, with experience in dealing with Ebola virus, Zika virus, and SARS virus also agree that the disease is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. 

Unlike bacteria, viruses need a living host to survive and cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Health authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control have rejected claims that antibiotics can cure the disease because it is not caused by bacteria.

The posts also make claims connecting coronavirus to 5G networks. AFP Fact Check has debunked that here.

No cure for COVID-19

Italy's health ministry rejected claims that painkillers such as paracetamol and aspirin could cure COVID-19. 

“(Paracetamol) provides pain relief, which is very useful in case of high fever, but it does not cure coronavirus,” it said on its webpage dedicated to debunking misinformation and disinformation around COVID-19.

As of June 8, 2020, the Italian health ministry maintains that “there is no specific treatment for the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Treatment remains mainly based on a symptomatic approach, providing supportive therapies (e.g. oxygen therapy, fluid management) to infected people, which can nevertheless be highly effective.”

According to the WHO, “there are currently no drugs licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19”. Its latest draft on vaccine development shows that there are 133 candidates in trials, including 10 that have progressed to testing on humans.

Mayowa Tijani