On September 23, 2020, Tvalsazrisi.ge published an interview with Zurab Kumsiashvili titled “Masks – Preventing the Disease or a Tool for Enslaving the Public?” In his interview, Kumsiashvili mentions that using masks causes psychological damage and the restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic deprive people of their individualism. He also claims that masks should only worn by the those who are already infected and that it is mentally harmful for asymptomatic individuals to wear them.
Zurab Kumsiashvili: “Asymptomatic individuals do not need masks. They should only be worn by those who are infected… Most importantly, a psychological factor should be kept in mind. Mask is a means for de-individualisation… Governing such society and imposing lots of absurdities is much easier in such societies… You can easily convince such society that nothing depends on them, you can easily make them do nonsensical work etc. COVID-19 is not as terrifying as the World Health Organisation (WHO) paints it.”
An interview, published by a pro-Kremlin News Front, proposed the same conspiracy theory about the masks on September 23, citing Alia newspaper. It mentioned that wearing masks caused respiratory diseases and is harmful for human health.
News Front, September 23, journalist: “People already got used to masks. Children are wearing them, some are wearing them in transport or at work for hours… While breathing through the masks, an individual breathes in the same carbon dioxide they breathed out in addition to a very small amount of oxygen – 5-10%, at most. This weakens immune system, causes lung and other respiratory, as well as cardiovascular diseases. Those who are already suffering from these diseases experience a shorter lifespan due to wearing masks.”
The claims that carbon dioxide can intoxicate people and decrease immune system are false, while the opinion that masks are used for subjugating masses is a conspiracy. If used in accordance with the WHO recommendations, masks are one of the most effective ways of protection against respiratory viruses and it significantly restricts the massive spread of the pathogen.
False information: wearing masks is harmful for health.
The claim that breathing in carbon dioxide while wearing masks is a serious threat to human health is disinformation. According to the WHO recommendations, masks should only be manufactured from a breathable material. Wearing masks that are manufactured in accordance to the recommendations does not cause a build-up of critical volumes of carbon dioxide in the body. While using ordinary medical or fabric masks, the breathed-out carbon dioxide easily gets away through the mask. For instance, surgeons usually wear thicker masks during the day, however there is no evidence of any harm done by masks on surgeons.
The second claim that the mask use weakens the immune system is not true either. The given disinformation is popular not only in Georgia, but other social media as well. However, there is no scientific evidence that would confirm that the use of masks affects the immune system either in a negative or a positive way. The mask only represents an additional barrier against the dissemination of droplets created while talking, sneezing, or coughing and their subsequent access to the respiratory airways
Conspiracy: masks are used to subjugate the masses.
As conspiracy theories hold, masks are being used to subjugate and control masses, however, in fact, the history of covering face and, especially, airways during widescale spreads of infectious diseases goes way back. European doctors first resorted to this method of protection against the plague in 17th century. The doctors were filling long masks shaped like bird heads with various substances and plants and believed that this way they could remove pathogens from air.
Medical specialists started to apply masks in the modern form in late 19th century, when European scientists first discovered bacteria and the diseases caused by them. Masks became especially popular during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, when the masks were worn not only by doctors, but by patients as well. It was during that pandemic when wearing masks became mandatory in the United States.
Currently, masks are one of the components of WHO’s complex approach of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. They protect healthy individuals from getting infected and prevents the spread of the virus from the infected ones. WHO recommends wearing masks:
- Health workers;
- Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, including people with mild symptoms;
- People caring for suspect or confirmed cases of COVID-19 outside of health facilities;
- At-risk groups; people aged 60 or over and people with underlying health conditions.
The use of masks made of non-medical fabric is recommended for everyone in the high-risk areas of the virus dissemination: shops, public transport, public places etc.
Who are disseminating disinformation and conspiracies about masks?
Zurab Kumsiashvili, the doctor interviewed by Tvalsazrisi.ge, regularly publishes various medical recommendations via the given portal. In March and September 2020, Tvalsazrisi.ge disseminated fake news about a drug created by Zurab Kumsiashvili’s center allegedly curing coronavirus.
The author of Tvalsazrisi.ge is Irakli Jankarashvili who is also the administrator of „ანტილიბერალური დოქტრინა“ (Anti-liberal doctrine) and the author at News Front Georgia.
The article by News Front has also been disseminated by სტალინი (Stalin), ევრაზია – საინფორმაციო სააგენტო (Eurasia – Information Agency: Russia and Georgia) and a Facebook group – კოტე ჩიკვილაძის და გულბაათ რცხილაძის (Group of those who agree with Kote Chikviladze and Gulbaat Rtskhiladze). These Kremlin-associated platforms often disseminate identical articles. Moreover, the Eurasia – Information Agency is managed by Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, the Head of the Eurasian Institute, a pro-Russian non-governmental organization. The “Group of those who agree with Kote Chikviladze and Gulbaat Rtskhiladze: Russia and Georgia” is managed by Eurasia – Information Agency.