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(Image: RMIT ABC Fact Check)

As the world grapples with an unprecedented health crisis, it is now more important than ever to ensure that the information we share is accurate and fact-based. Fake news and misinformation seem to be spreading as fast and as far as the virus itself, infecting our newsfeeds and timelines at this crucial moment.

For this reason, RMIT ABC Fact Check has launched CoronaCheck, an email newsletter in which we will bring you the latest in fact-checking from around the world in relation to the coronavirus.

Read the latest edition below, and subscribe to have the next newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

CoronaCheck issue 2

Our colleagues from the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) have been covering a lot of ground, from lions in Russia to shoppers in Australia.

In this edition of CoronaCheck we’ve covered what to do if you’re feeling ill (hint — it’s unlikely to involve Facebook advice) and investigated a viral email claiming to be from the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

We’ve also checked in with the US presidential election race, and brought you a light-hearted story from Belgium.

The flu vaccine

While teams of researchers around the world are working at full throttle to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Australians are heading to their local GP for this year’s flu shot.

But one Facebook post, shared more than 2500 times, claims that the flu vaccine increases your chances of getting the coronavirus by 36%.

The claim has been deemed false by the fact checkers at Lead Stories, who quoted Dr David Webber, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, as saying:

The influenza vaccine neither protects against coronavirus nor increases one’s risk of catching it.

A message from the Royal Melbourne Hospital

The Royal Melbourne Hospital has taken to Twitter to distance itself from a message circulating online attributed to a “friend who works for the Royal Melbourne Hospital in HR”.

The message contains a number of claims, including that sipping water will help “destroy” the virus (debunked here) and that being able to breathe deeply is a sign that a person is not infected (debunked here).

The hospital labelled the message “completely false” and said:

This is not from the Royal Melbourne Hospital or the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital @MetroNorthHHS and the details are untrue.

Baby formula

A collective madness seems to have gripped Australia, as evidenced by supermarket shelves left bare in the wake of an onslaught of panic shoppers.

One video shared on social media in recent days appears to show shoppers stockpiling baby formula at a Melbourne supermarket. The video, posted to YouTube on March 18, is undated. Captions and comments on Facebook posts that feature the video suggest some viewers assumed the footage was captured during the coronavirus outbreak.

But our IFCN-accredited colleagues at AFP Fact Check determined that while the video does show shoppers buying tins of formula, it was originally published on December 21, 2019 — more than a week before the first reported cases of coronavirus.

Lions in Russia

Struggling with the thought of being locked inside your house for the foreseeable future? Tempted to sneak outside for a break? What if there were lions outside patrolling the streets? Would you want to leave?

No, Russia did not release lions to patrol the streets to enforce a lockdown in the country. (Supplied)

One viral story, complete with photos, claims that President Vladimir Putin released more than 500 lions onto Russian streets in order to keep people inside during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fact checkers at Reuters and Rappler marked the story as false and identified the photo of a lion on city streets as having been taken in South Africa in 2016, when the animal was allowed to wander through Johannesburg as part of a film production.

Free GP visits

Confused about what to do if you think you might have coronavirus? Incorrect advice and misinformation being spread on social media may be partly to blame.

Take, for example, a Facebook post claiming that Australians who call their local “communicable disease control branch” would be seen at home by a doctor for free. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, that’s because it is, according to AFP Fact Check, which found no evidence of any Australian state offering free GP visits.

If you do feel unwell and have symptoms matching those of coronavirus, the number you should call is the National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080

From Washington D.C.

People who have never died before are now dying from coronavirus.”

That’s the nonsensical quote being attributed to both Trump and his likely opponent in this year’s US presidential election, Joe Biden.

But which one of them actually said it?

Neither, according to PolitiFact, which found no evidence of the quote being used in any speech, campaign ad or media interview by either man.

They did discover, however, that Ernest Hemingway was apparently fond of the phrase (sans the coronavirus reference, of course).

On the lighter side

No, Belgium’s health minister did not ban “non-essential group sex”, though it might be a good idea to put such activities on hold for now.

Always check the source: this misinformation came from a satirical news website. (Supplied)

That particular piece of fake news, contained in an article by World News Daily Report, was taken as gospel and shared widely on social media, including by verified accounts on Twitter.

But, as The Quint discovered, the article was actually satire — the tagline of World News Daily Report is “where facts don’t matter”.

We’ll keep saying it until it sticks: check the source!

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Got a fact that needs checking? Tweet us @ABCFactCheck or send us an email at [email protected]

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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