On November 7, News Front Georgia, a pro-Kremlin online media outlet, published an article headlined “A story of an absolutely unbelievable, unprecedented and undeclared genocide of the 21st century!!! The story is based on the post published by Facebook user Giorgi Abashidze in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the article has an evaluative nature and it criticizes the restrictions imposed by the government amid the coronavirus pandemic. It also suggests that COVID-19 is a virus similar to the flu and the global pandemic is an artificial process aimed at achieving depopulation. The article is accompanied by an English-language video, in which the author claims that a face mask offers no protection. The video has a Russian-language voice-over on YouTube channel Jacob Jugashvili.
According to CrowdTangle data, on November 7, News Front Georgia’s article was shared to 10 public groups with the majority of interactions observed in “the Group of Associates of Kote Chikviladze and Gulbaat Rtskhiladze: Russia and Georgia.” News Front Georgia’s articles have been frequently spread in this public group since Facebook removed this pro-Kremlin page and the accounts affiliated with it from the platform.
The article contains old conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. In fact: 1) Wearing face masks significantly reduces the risks of virus transmission; 2) COVID-19 is not the same as flu and it is much severe infection; 3) The claim that the pandemic aims at achieving depopulation has no evidence and represents a conspiracy theory.
- Face masks prevent COVID-19 transmission
The video accompanying News Front Georgia’s article features American producer Del Bigtree. The video has been uploaded to YouTube Channel Jacob Jugashvili with a Russian voice-over. This is not the first time the channel spreads conspiratorial videos containing disinformation about COVID-19. Myth Defector has written about it in its earlier article.
As for Del Bigtree, the author of an original, English-language video, he hosts a talk show The HighWire where he criticizes the use of face masks. Del Bigtree is an anti-vaccine activist, who links vaccination to autism. Bigtree worked as a producer of an American pseudoscience documentary film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, which is mainly based on conspiracy theories.
Del Bigtree claims that face masks do not protect from virus transmission and brings an example of Hawaii and Philippines, where although people are required to wear face masks in most public settings from April, number of new COVID-19 cases is still growing.
The Hawaii governor has said both locals and tourists frequently violated the rule and did not wear face masks. For example, about 33,000 people had been warned and 3,100 citations issued since September 20 for violations of the city’s coronavirus emergency regulations in Honolulu. CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, as well as President and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said mask wearing does not appear to be widespread in Waikiki.
Unlike Hawaii, the situation is quite different in the Philippines. According to the survey conducted by Imperial College of London, around 91 percent of respondents from the Philippines claimed they complied with the country’s mask-wearing policies. Only 1 percent of Filipinos admitted they did not wear masks outside the house, while 2 percent only sometimes wore masks, and 5 percent frequently wore masks.
Del Bigtree brings the examples of Hawaii and the Philippines in a manipulative manner without giving due consideration to a number of circumstances having an impact on the spread of virus, for example, how correctly people wear face masks, whether they observe social distancing and so on. Recent studies suggest that wearing face masks reduces the spread of COVID-19 on a population level and consequently blunts the growth of the epidemic curve. Still, determining mask efficacy is a complex topic that is still an active field of research, made even more complicated because the infection pathways for COVID-19 are not yet fully understood and are complicated by many factors such as the route of transmission, correct fit and usage of masks, and environmental variables.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if worn properly, a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria). Researchers note that it is especially important that an infected person wears a face mask. Since infected people can spread the virus just by talking, a face mask is needed to contain viral droplets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing face masks in public settings, especially when it is difficult to observe social distancing.
Besides laboratory research, which claims that both surgical and cloth masks contain viral droplets, it is confirmed by a natural experiment on the effects of state government mandates for face mask use in public issued by fifteen U.S. states plus Washington, D.C. that led to a significant decline in daily COVID-19 growth rate. Since besides mandating face mask use in public, various countries also imposed other restrictions, it is difficult to claim how this particular variable affected the spread of virus. However, on the other hand, we have some cases talking about containment of COVID-19 transmission in high-risk scenarios. For example, a man travelling from China to Toronto tested positive for COVID-19. He wore a mask during the flight. Close contacts included 25 individuals and all of them underwent testing, but none of them tested positive. In another development, two stylists from Missouri hair salon, who were later diagnosed with COVID-19, had close contacts with 140 clients in May. But all clients as well as stylists wore face masks. Only 46 out of 140 clients agreed to undergo testing and all of them were tested negative.
The study by Monica Gandhi MD, MPH of the Department of Medicine at University of California is also worth noting. Based on the available literature and statistics, she and her colleagues promote a theory that universal masking reduces the dose of the virus for the mask-wearer, leading to more mild and asymptomatic infection manifestations, because masks filter out the majority of viral particles, but not all. An animal model has tested this theory of masking attenuating disease severity. According to the study, giving SARS-CoV-2 in a range of doses to humans experimentally would be unethical.
- COVID-19 is not the same as flu and it is much severe infection
Those people who do not believe the COVID-19 pandemic is real promote an opinion that the novel coronavirus actually is not dangerous and that its risks are similar to those of the influenza virus. They frequently refer to death rates, which is 0.1% for seasonal influenza that is much below COVID-19 fatalities. In addition, COVID-19 does not represent the influenza virus; the group of coronaviruses is a separate, large group, also involving the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The major problem of COVID-19 is its rapid spread and overloaded health care systems. The influenza virus causing seasonal flu is studied comprehensively and can be managed better than COVID-19. Unlike this latter, influenza vaccines are already available. Thus, it is irrelevant to equate COVID-19 with seasonal influenza.
- Conspiracy theory about depopulation through the pandemic
A conspiracy theory about depopulation had been spread in both post-pandemic and pre-pandemic periods. News Front Georgia does not refer to any source to prove the reliability of this suggestion. However, the plan of depopulation is frequently linked to Bill Gates and vaccination. Myth Detector has written about it in its earlier article. In 2010, Bill Gates gave a speech “Innovating to zero” at Ted Talks, in which he spoke about reduction of CO2 emissions and noted that vaccination may play a significant role in terms of population growth control. He noted that vaccines are crucial for reduction of child mortality in the developing countries, which, for its part, will slow down population growth. Bill Gates thinks that when more children survive, parents will choose to have fewer children. Women will have a number of children they can support, send them to school and take care about their health, which is a precondition for overcoming poverty and improving living standards. Bill Gates’ remarks made in 2010 have nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and do not imply reducing the world population growth.
The article uses data from CrowdTangle, the leading content discovery and social monitoring platform.
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