A nurse fills a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Seoul on March 20, 2021. (AFP / Jung Yeon-je)

Korean Facebook posts falsely claim Covid-19 is a ‘common cold that we see every year’

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Facebook posts circulating in South Korea claim that Covid-19 is "merely a common cold that we see every year", referencing news reports from 2013 which mentioned a "novel coronavirus". The claim is false: the 2013 reports referred to the MERS outbreak in South Korea, which was caused by a different virus, according to health experts.

The claim was shared here on Facebook on May 11, 2021.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on May 14, 2021.

“The novel coronavirus? We already saw the exact same thing seven years ago. It’s merely a common cold that we see every year. People, please wake up. Aren't you fed up with this show?” reads the Korean-language claim.

The claim was shared alongside a screenshot of a local news report published on May 29, 2013 by South Korean broadcaster MBC and a YouTube clip of the report.

“Fear of the novel coronavirus, a deadly cold virus, is spreading in Europe and the Middle East,” MBC’s report reads. 

Similar claims have been shared on Facebook here and here and on South Korean online community Naver Cafe here

The claim is false.

MERS outbreak

Coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, according to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The term novel coronavirus refers to a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified, as noted by the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland.

The coronavirus outbreak reported in South Korea in 2013 was Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which causes MERS.

MERS-CoV is a virus that transferred to humans from infected dromedary camels.

When the virus first emerged in 2012, it was initially referred to as a “novel coronavirus” because it had never been identified before, as seen here on the website of the World Health Organization.

As of May 2021, the disease killed 38 people in South Korea according to WHO data published here by the South Korean government.

Since 2012, it has caused 886 deaths globally, the WHO reported here.


Covid-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

It is also part of a large family of coronaviruses, but it is not the same as MERS-CoV.

The death toll from Covid-19 has so far been much higher than MERS-CoV.

1903 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in South Korea as of May 17, 2021

More than 3.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide as of May 12, 2021. AFP reported on the crisis here.

Common cold

The common cold is caused by a number of groups of different viruses, including coronavirusesRSV and parainfluenza, but rhinoviruses are the most common.

Most of these viruses will lead to people becoming sick, but our immune systems will generally fight them off, according to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

AFP has previously debunked posts that made misleading comparisons between Covid-19 and the common cold.