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fact check joe exotic
(Image: Netflix)

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.

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

We open today’s newsletter with a pointer to our latest fact file, which examines the key differences in COVID-19 containment measures between Australia and Singapore, a country that is often cited as an exemplar in the fight against the coronavirus.

We also check in with everyone’s new favourite Netflix star, Joe Exotic, aka Tiger King, rumoured to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and highlight a fake news story emanating from Italy.

Singapore’s prevention measures

Singapore has announced strict new measures around movements and social gatherings. Over the next two days, churches, businesses and schools will close as households are asked to stay home.

Why is that significant? Because the Asian city state had been hailed for its efforts to arrest the spread of coronavirus while still affording its residents some semblance of normal life. It’s also been held up as a model for Australia’s own schools policy.

But while Singapore has been first to move on some measures, it has lagged Australia on others. With infections now on the rise there, and the government anxious about community spread, Fact Check takes a look at what Singapore’s been doing and what’s changed.

Does the Tiger King have coronavirus?

With the country in lockdown, Australians are turning to streaming services such as Netflix to keep them entertained. One runaway hit has been Tiger King: Murder, mayhem and madness, a true crime documentary series about a man named Joe Exotic and the seedy underworld of big-cat breeding.

In a true sign of the times, rumours are swirling that the Tiger King himself has been laid low with COVID-19 in a Texas prison.

Fact checkers at Snopes and PolitiFact found that while Exotic had not tested positive to the virus, he was in isolation in a new prison after being transferred from a prison facility with confirmed cases.

Does the virus linger in the air for eight hours?

As scientists work to learn all they can about the novel coronavirus, it remains unclear exactly how the virus spreads, causing confusion among the public.

Does the virus linger in the air for eight hours?

As scientists work to learn all they can about the novel coronavirus, it remains unclear exactly how the virus spreads, causing confusion among the public.

One Facebook post playing into this uncertainty claims the virus has been confirmed as airborne and can remain in the air for up to eight hours. This post has been debunked by fact checkers at PolitiFactAfrica Check and factcheck.org.

As experts told health reporters at the ABC, the virus is thought to spread mainly via respiratory droplets, which are secreted when we sneeze or cough, but there’s no evidence that these droplets linger for a very long in the air.

“There is no credible evidence at this stage that proved airborne particles could spread the virus in the community,” La Trobe University epidemiologist Dr Hassan Vally told the ABC.

In fact, the World Health Organisation says that these droplets are too heavy to hang in the air, and will fall quickly to the floor or surfaces.

That’s not to say there’s no risk of catching the virus from these droplets before they reach a surface — standing too close to a person who coughs or sneezes may put you at risk of breathing in the droplets, which is why social distancing is considered so important.

Fact checkers who looked into the claim found one scientific study that suggested that, in some specific hospital settings, the virus could survive (and remain infectious) in the air for three hours.

Did an Italian doctor kill 3000 coronavirus patients?

An article shared widely on Facebook claiming an Italian doctor was arrested for intentionally killing more than 3000 coronavirus patients is fake news, according to fact checkers at Reuters and PolitiFact.

The article claims “Dr Sergio Kerr”, a “known member of the Italian opposition Democratic Party”, ignored medical procedures and administered drugs known to worsen pneumonia.

But fact checkers found no evidence of such an arrest, and discovered the photo accompanying the article was of an American physician charged with drug offences in 2014.

From Washington, D.C.

While it certainly sounds like something he would say, US President Donald Trump did not call the coronavirus a “hoax”, fact checkers at Snopes and Lead Stories have determined.

In a news conference on February 28, the President took aim at his political adversaries, saying it was “their new hoax” to claim that he wasn’t doing anything about the coronavirus.

But audio of the event has been edited to make it appear as if he was calling the existence of the virus a hoax.

In one such ad, viewed more than 15 million times on Twitter, a left-leaning lobby group edited the audio to make it appear that Mr Trump said: “The coronavirus, this is their new hoax.”

Lead Stories went on to point out:

“While Trump did not explicitly call the coronavirus a hoax, critics say he downplayed the threat of the virus in the first couple of months of the year, comparing it to the flu, for example.”

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Peter Fray

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