On June 15, online media outlet tinp.ge and Facebook page “თავისუფალი სული” (Free Spirit) published identical articles headlined “Scandalous confession by WHO epidemiologist – the epidemic does not exist!” tinp.ge refers to hotnews.ge as the source of its information; however, the latter’s article cannot be searched since June 16. Tvm.ge also published an identical article headlined “Neither lockdown and curfew, nor contact tracing was necessary, because the virus cannot survive on surfaces. It was simply the demand of governments.”
According to the articles, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of COVID-19 response and the head of emerging diseases and zoonosis unit at the World Health Organization, said that actually no pandemic and epidemic exist. The article is accompanied by Maria Van Kerkhove’s photo with the WHO banner on the background. Tvm.ge also provides video comments.
In her video comments, Maria Van Kerkhove actually speaks about asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.
She noted that in some cases asymptomatic patients may not have developed COVID symptoms, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath but some may have mild disease. There might be people who are asymptomatic but PCR positive, she said, adding that it still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.
“We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They are following asymptomatic cases, they are following contacts and they are not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare and much of that is not published in the literature,” Maria Van Kerkhove said at a press conference.
She also noted that “if we followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those contacts, we would drastically reduce [the virus spread].”
Thus, the text spread in Georgian media is manipulative, because it offers Maria Van Kerkhove’s comments actually torn out of context. The WHO representative made no remarks about absence of epidemic or pandemic. She simply described the course of disease in asymptomatic patients and noted that there are rare or no cases of transmission among such patients. In addition, she stressed the need for quarantine measures.
The material was also shared by other online media outlets, among them Georgian Opinion and reportiori.ge. Although PIA news agency noted that the news was fake and actually the WHO representative made an absolutely different statement, its headline was manipulative like those of other media outlets (“There is no pandemic! There is no epidemic! It was simple the demand of governments”). According to CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool, nine Facebook pages shared the articles prepared by various online media outlets on this issue, and they had a total of 251 interactions.
The materials with identical content referring to various sources were shared in 67 public groups and they had a total of 6,336 interactions.
About „თავისუფალი სული“
Facebook page “თავისუფალი სული,” which was one of the first to publish the article, was created on March 11, 2020 and it is run from Italy by page admin. The page was initially named “დამშვიდდი და იბატონე” (Calm Down and Rule). In its “About us” section, the page notes: “You will find the truth here.”
The article was prepared using CrowdTangle’s analytics tools.