Residents wait in line for a free Covid-19 test in New York City on May 13, 2020 (AFP / Angela Weiss)

Mystery Covid-19 test result rumor fuels claims Canada figures inflated

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A Facebook post describing a person in Canada who was allegedly diagnosed with Covid-19 after cancelling a swab appointment is circulating online amid claims that the number of infections is inflated. The Alberta government said any such situation, if they occur, should be reported to the province for investigation, and an expert said the government is likely undercounting Covid-19 cases.

“Friend of mine in Red Deer had appt for Covid test on a Wednesday at 1:30. Arrived, the line up was 40 deep even with appt. She opted to leave,” reads a Facebook post shared more than 1,000 times since October 29, 2020.

“She received a call from AHS Friday that she had tested positive. She responded impossible I didn’t get tested. AHS answered you had an appt whether you were tested or not it goes as a positive test.”

Screenshot of the Facebook post taken on November 6, 2020

The claim has been circulating in multiple Facebook posts, including here, here and here.

Around the world, false claims about Covid-19 have spread as quickly as the disease itself, with widely-shared posts doubting the efficacy of masks, testing and even claiming the pandemic does not exist. In Canada, AFP debunked a claim that flu cases were being used to inflate Covid-19 numbers.

Contacted by AFP, Kerry Williamson, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services (AHS), said that “no report is generated for a person who does not show up for an appointment, and thus no result exists.”

“If any individual is receiving a call from AHS advising of a Covid-19 test result, and HAS NOT gone for a Covid-19 swab, they should call 811 to report this false report,” he added in an email.

AFP contacted the Facebook account where the story appears to originate, but has not received a reply at the time of publication.

“No government benefits from overcounting Covid”

Colin Furness, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation of the University of Toronto said the number of Covid-19 cases in Canada was more likely to be underestimated than the opposite.

“The reality is that no government benefits from overcounting Covid, quite the opposite in fact: high Covid rates make people angry with the way it’s being managed. Governments tend to undercount, not overcount,” he told AFP.

He said that only physicians were licensed to provide diagnoses, and that “to do so falsely would result in disciplinary measures.”

Alberta currently accounts for around 30,000 of the more than 251,000 Covid-19 cases recorded in Canada. Like the rest of the country, it has experienced a spike in infections since Thanksgiving.

Here is how Canada defines a positive Covid-19 case.

As of early November, Alberta had completed more than 1.8 million tests.

Tests are available for free to people showing symptoms, those with a close contact to Covid-19 cases, and all workers and residents at “specific outbreak sites.”

However, “asymptomatic testing has been paused for people who have no known exposure to Covid-19.”