The conspiracy that kept people from getting a free COVID-19 test has been dismissed as nonsense but it keeps gaining traction.
The conspiracy that kept people from getting a free COVID-19 test has been dismissed as nonsense but it keeps gaining traction.

The ‘nonsense’ coronavirus claim putting lives at risk

Victoria's Health Minister Jenny Mikakos stood in front of reporters on 3 July after it was revealed that 10,000 people in "hot zones" had refused free COVID-19 tests when doorknocked.

She gave an explanation that left the majority of Australians shaking their heads.

"Some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy or that it won't impact on them," Ms Mikakos said.

The comments provided fodder for blogs and news bulletins but they can't be easily dismissed. There is a growing cohort of so-called experts fuelling the fire on non-traditional news websites and social media.

US President's Donald Trump's repeated comments about "fake news" don't help, either.

But laureate professor at the University of Newcastle and editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia, Nick Talley, told there's "a lot of nonsense out there".

He said he can "sort of understand what people are saying" when they question the case fatality rate but the suggestion that COVID-19 is just another flu should be shut down.

"All of the best calculations suggest (the case fatality rate for COVID-19) is about seven-fold higher than the flu," Professor Talley said.

"There have been some prominent individuals who've said it's just the flu. But when it takes hold, there's chaos. Hospitals fill up, morgues fill up. That's where the disconnect is. There's a lot of nonsense out there. The data is pretty robust on how bad this is."

Victoria's chief health officer, Brett Sutton, took that one step further this week after it was announced that Victoria recorded 307 new cases. He called the comparison between COVID-19 deaths and the flu deaths "absurd".

"I'm still reading the counterfactuals that 29 deaths is not much compared to an average flu season," Professor Sutton said.

"These are the deaths you have when you have your controls in place. When you do not have your controls in place, and the restrictions that we have applied across metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and across the state to some degree, you get 1000 cases a day, 10,000 or more cases a day, as has occurred in some countries, and you get up to 1000 deaths per day, as has occurred in countries in Europe, in Brazil, and elsewhere.

"So the idea that 29 deaths is nothing, and that we can lift all restrictions and that we can let it run, is absurd. It's an exponential growth in cases when there aren't restrictions in place."

Among the naysayers are former celebrity chef Pete Evans, who asked his followers: "Is this the biggest scamdemic in human history?"

Evans, who repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the virus, was ironically fined $25,000 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for breaches of advertising standards when he tried to promote a "BioCharger" device to his 1.4 million Facebook followers.

Evans claimed during a live video that the device, which purportedly uses frequencies to treat a range of health ailments, has a "Wuhan Coronavirus" setting.

"(The) claim which has no apparent foundation, and the TGA takes (it) extremely seriously," the authority said in a statement.

On Friday, Melbourne COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Simeon Cassar was arrested in the ACT after allegedly breaking through state barriers in Melbourne and making his way to protests in Canberra, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

ACT police said the man had been charged for failing to comply with health directions in the territory.

Detective Superintendent Jason Kennedy said: "We take the safety of the Canberra community seriously, especially those who may be at higher risk of health complications," Detective Superintendent Kennedy said.

"ACT Policing had serious concerns about the significant health risks this particular individual posed to our community by not complying with the health directions.

"ACT Policing will continue to take all necessary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

The man is expected to appear before the ACT Magistrates Court this afternoon. Bail will be opposed.

Anne Kruger from First Draft - an organisation set up to fight back against the spread of false information online - said there has never been a better time for conspiracies to spread.

"It's that moment or opportunity that agents of disinformation can pounce upon because people have this heightened sense of fear and they're vulnerable," she told The Drum on Tuesday. "So they're clicking on anything and everything, trying to get information."

She continued: "There were already anti-vaccination movements here, but they have used coronavirus to grow exponentially." published an article in May when it was clear that the "research so far indicates that COVID-19 spreads more easily and has a higher death rate than the flu".

"Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses," the article reads. "But COVID-19 is not the flu. Research so far indicates that COVID-19 spreads more easily and has a higher death rate than the flu."

It went on: "The death rate from seasonal flu is typically around 0.1 per cent in the US, according to news reports.

"Though the death rate for COVID-19 is unclear, almost all credible research suggests it is much higher than that of the seasonal flu."

The current case mortality rate in the US is sitting at around four per cent.

If looking at deaths per 100,000 population, in America seasonal flu has a rate of two deaths per 100,000. COVID-19's rate is 36.8.

Research published in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases in July showed COVID-19 spreads faster and is more deadly than the flu.

"The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has already caused severe morbidity and mortality in older adults, much higher than in the pandemic influenza," The Lancet concluded. | @ro_smith

Originally published as 'Nonsense': COVID-19 conspiracy trashed