Visitors stand by the Colosseum monument which reopens to the public on June 1, 2020 in Rome, while the country eases its lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Myth circulates online that Italy discovered COVID-19 is a bacteria, curable by taking paracetamol

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Mulitple Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim the Italian health ministry has discovered COVID-19 is caused by bacteria. The posts go on to claim the health ministry discovered COVID-19 is exacerbated by 5G technology and can be cured using painkillers and antibiotics. The claims are false; the Italian health ministry said the posts were “a hoax”; the claims have also been widely refuted by international experts, who have found COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus.

The claims were published on Facebook here on May 24, 2020. The post was shared more than 2,900 times.

A screenshot of the misleading post on May 26, 2020

The post's Tagalog-language caption translates to English in part as: “THE ITALIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH DISCOVERED the SECRET surrounding COVID19. / This disease is NOT CREATED by VIRUS but BACTERIA that worsens with 5G ELECTRONIC RADIATION. / ITALIAN DOCTORS found this out when they disobeyed W.H.O. PROTOCOL that corpses of those who died from COVID19 should be cremated immediately and not undergo AUTOPSY. / IN PERFORMING AUTOPSY THEY FOUND THAT THE CAUSE OF DEATH OF THOSE SICK is THROMBOSIS or blood clotting in the entire body in particular in the BRAIN, HEART and LUNGS (cause of oxygen not being able to flow), INFLAMMATION or swelling, THE CURE IS SIMPLY 1) ANTI-COAGULANT or blood thinners / 2) ANTI-BACTERIALS / 3) ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES / 4) ASPIRIN 100mg. / 5) PARACETAMOL”.

Similar claims were also shared hundreds of times here, here and here on Facebook. 

The claims, however, are false.

"It's a hoax," a spokeswoman for the Italian health ministry told AFP on June 3, 2020.

The claims have also been widely disproven by international health experts. 

Bacteria myth

Scientists have found that COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus -- not bacteria. The first major outbreak of the disease was in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. It has since spread worldwide. 

“By Jan 7, 2020, Chinese scientists had isolated a novel coronavirus (CoV) from patients in Wuhan,” states this study published in The Lancet, one of the world’s top peer-reviewed scientific journals.

On February 11, 2020, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) named the new virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”, or SARS-CoV-2, owing to its genetic relation to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.

As the disease rapidly spread across the world, scientists working independently isolated the new virus. National health agencies -- for instance in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Philippines -- all state that the disease is viral. Studies on COVID-19 patients in countries such as  Australia, Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Korea and France also say the disease is not bacterial. 

5G radiation hoax

The claim that COVID-19 is linked to 5G mobile communication technology is not supported by scientific evidence and has been widely debunked as a conspiracy theory. 

“Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks,” the World Health Organization (WHO) states in this page debunking myths about the pandemic. “COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.”

AFP has reported on several other false claims connecting COVID-19 to 5G; for example here, here and here.

Purported virus cures

The claim that a patient infected with COVID-19 can be cured by taking paracetamol and other basic medications is also false.

“(Paracetamol) provides pain relief, which is very useful in case of high fever, but it does not cure coronavirus," the Italian health ministry states on this webpage dedicated to debunking COVID-19 hoaxes.

As of June 4, 2020, the ministry maintains here 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.”

The WHO also states here that "there are currently no drugs licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19."