On November 11, 2020, Facebook user Jana Matureli’s October 4 post with the attached photo of the front page of the June 13, 2003 issue of the Newspaper «Североуральские вести» was shared in the public group “ხალხური მედიცინა” (Folk Medicine). The title of the article “Coronavirus becomes aggressive” is visible on the photo and the introduction of the article reads that the world is concerned about the rapid spread of the SAR virus. According to the author of the post, the aforesaid publication proves that there’s nothing new about the coronavirus, and the fear associated with it is exaggerated.
Jana Matureli: It occurred in 2003 as well, now who will answer me on this? Coronavirus became aggressive, June 13, 2003. Corona has always been there. Why is there so much fear and isolation now? It was discovered in 1997 and the drug was supposed to be developed in 2003.”
As of 9:00, November 12, October 4 post has 800 shares, whereas November 11 post has 516
Jana Matureli’s post is manipulation. It’s true that the photo from the newspaper is authentic and depicts June 13, 2003 article, albeit the article is about the other coronavirus – SARS-cov ad not COVID-19. SARS-cov spread in China and Asian countries in 2003, and while “novel coronavirus” belongs in the same family of viruses as SARS-cov, it didn’t exist until 2019.
- 2003 article is about the threat caused by the other coronavirus and not COVID-19.
There are hundreds of coronaviruses most of which circulate among animals and usually cause moderate respiratory diseases if transmitted to a human. Currently, 7 coronaviruses can cause illnesses if transmitted to a human body, four of which cause mild to moderate symptoms, and three can cause serious, even fatal infection:
- SARS coronavirus (SARS-cov) emerged in November 2002 and can cause the acute respiratory syndrome, albeit the virus disappeared by 2004;
- MERS coronavirus (MERS-cov) emerged in 2012 and causes an acute respiratory infection in humans. It’s transmitted from an animal reservoir in camels and it continues to cause periodic outbreaks in the middle east;
- Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 emerged in China in 2019.
The 2003 article of the newspaper «Североуральские вести» is about the first coronavirus SAR-cov among the listed. World Health Organization announced SAR-cov infecting people first on April 13, 2003. Identification of the virus that causes acute respiratory syndrome was the result of the collaboration of 13 laboratories from 10 countries of the world. SARS-cov outbreak happened in China in 2002 and rapidly spread in Asian countries. According to the data from the World Health Organization, in 2003 around 8000 people were infected by SARS-cov in 26 countries and about 780 people died of it.
- Claim that COVID-19 was known years ago is a popular manipulation
The photo from the issue of «Североуральские вести» with a similar description has disseminated on Russian social networks and blogs from spring, 2020 and it has tens of thousands of shares. “It all happened once without all this panic, quarantine and fines” – reads the Russian description of the photo. Information about the mentioned manipulation was fact-checked by the Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica and Ukrainian fact-checking platform stopfake.org.
In times of pandemic, the narrative that COVID-19 has been talked about or predicted years ago has been disseminated before. On March 22, 2020 video from TV Kavkasia’s archive showing Lela Kakulia’s interview in Davit Akubardia’s own show “Spektri” in 2013 disseminated on social network. Lela Kakulia claimed that she had predicted a virus named “corona”. The description of the disseminated video doesn’t indicate that other coronaviruses – SARS and MERS existed in 2013, which could cause human infection and severe infectious disease. Therefore, Lela Kakulia’s “prediction” wasn’t connected to the novel coronavirus.