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World Doctors Alliance’s video on Covid-19, viral on social media in Nepal, is misleading

A collage of social media posts containing a misleading video on Covid-19 pandemic. In the video doctors of a group called The World Doctors Alliance dismiss the Covid-19 virus as seasonal virus and downplay the pandemic.

Over the past few days, Facebook users in Nepal have widely shared an English-language message along with an over-three-minute-long video clip. Under the title “Breaking news”, the post claims the World Health Organization (WHO) has retracted its guideline requiring coronavirus-infected people to isolate themselves, or stay in quarantine and maintain social distancing. The message also claims Covid-19 does not transmit from an infected person to another. 

The accompanying video clip repeats the conspiracy theories that have already been debunked. In the video, which was also spread through messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp, Dolores Cahill, an Irish professor of medicine, called Covid-19 a seasonal virus and claimed that it can be cured. Along with the claim of its cure, she opposed measures such as lockdown, wearing of masks, quarantining and maintaining social distance.

We also found an 18-minute version of the video. The video was recorded at an event organised by the World Doctors Alliance on October 10 in the German capital, Berlin. Cahill, a professor at University College Dublin in Ireland (also the president of the Irish Freedom Party), was joined by Heiko Schöning, a German doctor affiliated with the World Doctors Alliance, and Mohammad Adil, a British doctor of Pakistani origin.

According to news reports, the three are part of a group that spreads conspiracy theories about the pandemic. Cahill’s university has disassociated itself from her, according to a news report. The European Union has asked her to resign from a scientific committee. A month and a half ago, German doctor Schöning was arrested in London during an anti-mask rally. Britain’s Medical Register suspended Dr Adil for 12 months for spreading rumours about Covid-19.

South Asia Check has fact-checked the message and the claims made in the video clip.

First claim

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has completely taken a U-turn and now says that coronavirus patient neither needs to be isolated nor quarantined nor needs social distancing and it cannot transmit from one patient to another.”

The WHO continues to urge people to maintain social distance and wear masks to prevent Covid-19 infection. The WHO guidelines still require people infected with coronavirus to isolate themselves and spend 14 days in quarantine to avoid the risk of infection. The UN health body has reiterated that the disease spreads between people mainly when an infected person is in close contact with another person. “The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe heavily,” the WHO has said on its website. 

The claims made in this message are false.

Second claim

“The coronavirus is a seasonal virus that causes illness and symptoms from December to April. And, for people who have symptoms, there are treatments like inhaled steroid, hydroxychloroquine, and zinc. So, there’s no need for the lockdown, there’s no need for fear, no need for masks or social distancing or for quarantining people…”

Although both seasonal flu and Covid-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, the two are caused by different viruses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US. According to the CDC, Covid-19 spreads faster than the flu and can cause serious illnesses in some people.”It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer. Another important difference is there is a vaccine to protect against flu. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19,” the CDC said. 

Therefore, Cahill’s claim that Covid-19 and the flu are the same is misleading. Her claim that people get infected from Covid-19 from December to April is also wrong.

Cahill has also claimed that there is a treatment for Covid-19. She has mentioned inhaled steroid as one of the medicines. Various studies have shown inhaled steroids such as budesonide cannot cure Covid-19. The medicine is used for asthma patients. Similarly, the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has also been deemed ineffective against Covid-19. “The majority of evidence has shown that the drug [hydroxychloroquine] doesn’t prove to be an effective treatment [for Covid-19],” according to a report by the American news agency the Associated Press. Experts have also said taking azithromycin or zinc cannot cure Covid-19. Although the intake of zinc can prevent the common cold, it is not useful against Covid-19, according to an article in The New York Times.

Third claim

“We see no evidence of a medical pandemic.”

Speaking at the end of the video clip circulating among Nepali social media users, German doctor Schöning made this claim. His remark appears to be a part of the campaign to downplay the impact of the pandemic and to spread conspiracy theories about it.

According to the WHO, a disease is called a pandemic if it spreads across the international borders and infects a large number of people. In 2009, the WHO declared H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, a pandemic.

On November 4, 2020, Nepali public health expert Sushil Koirala shared a post on Facebook debunking the claims made in the video. The post in English read, “Their comments support Covid-19 denier’s argument using complex scientific language that plays well with people who are confused and fearful. The sophisticated language is to confuse and convince you and not [to present] facts.”

“Some are half-truth that uses common arguments and exaggerates its implications. As far as we know, denying Covid-19 is a dangerous thing that may cost you or your loved one’s life,” he said in the post, adding that his father had been admitted to an intensive care unit for 22 days following Covid-19 infection.

Fact-checking websites including the US-based Factcheck.org and India-based Boom Live have previously debunked the claims made in the video.

The article first appeared on South Asia Check.

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