(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.

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

CoronaCheck Issue 11

Today’s newsletter opens with research by RMIT ABC Fact Check on a claim that state border closures introduced in response to the coronavirus outbreak are unconstitutional. Some experts beg to differ.

Meanwhile, a misleading caption has been added to a viral video claiming Australian supermarkets have closed their doors to Chinese nationals.

And in good news for pet owners, fact checkers have found that using hand sanitiser poses little danger to our furry friends.

Fact-checking Alexander Downer

Efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19 have led to a range of restrictions at interstate and territory borders, leading former Liberal minister and diplomat Alexander Downer to claim: “I don’t think an Australian state can legally close its borders to other Australians under section 117 of the constitution.”

But RMIT ABC Fact Check found that to be doubtful.

Constitutional experts said it had long been accepted by the courts that there were valid exceptions to sections within the constitution that prohibit states from discriminating against Australian citizens from other states.

Cheryl Saunders, a professor at the University of Melbourne Law School, told Fact Check: “They have never been tested in circumstances like the present, obviously, but as long as the restrictions are limited to the life of the emergency, tailored to protecting public health, and do not single out interstateness without good reason, I would expect them to be able to operate consistently with the constitution.”

Hand sanitiser and pets

Fact checkers at AAP have run the rule over a Facebook post that claims patting your pets after using hand sanitiser may be lethal, concluding that the basis for the claim is misleading.

The post suggests that hand sanitiser contains ethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze and is toxic to humans and animals. But this is not the case — hand sanitisers sold in Australia contain 60 to 95 per cent alcohol in the form of ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, and a small amount of other chemicals.

Jacqueline Norris, University of Sydney Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, told AAP that hand sanitiser would only be dangerous to pets if they licked the hands of someone who had just applied the rub, something most animals would be averse to doing.

“If they did [lick hand rub containing alcohol] it could cause central depression and vomiting mainly due to the high levels of alcohol,” Professor Norris said.

A viral video goes viral again

A video of an altercation in a Melbourne Big W store that went viral is now being used to spread a claim that Chinese nationals have been banned from Australian supermarkets, according to AFP Fact Check.

The video, which was uploaded to Facebook on April 10 and became the focus of subsequent news stories, shows a man confronting two other shoppers attempting to buy tins of baby formula.

“After being told they had been in already and bought 4 tins after being seen at another shopping centre they still had the nerve to fight for the 4 tins!!,” the caption on the original uploaded video states.

But the video is now being shared alongside false claims that “Chinese are banned in Australia[n] supermarkets”.

A spokesperson for Woolworths told AFP they welcomed anyone wishing to shop at their stores while a Coles spokesperson said the claims were “absolutely untrue”.

“Coles has not banned Chinese customers.”

Anti-vax claims from Senegal

As scientists rush to develop and test a coronavirus vaccine, anti-vaccination campaigners have taken to social media to spread misinformation and fear.

One claim, that seven children died after being vaccinated against COVID-19 in Senegal, has been comprehensively debunked by at least six independent fact-checking organisations.

Fact checkers at PolitiFactLead StoriesSnopesReutersfactcheck.org and AFP Fact Check all found the claim, made in the voiceover of a video shared on Facebook, to be false. A spokeswoman for Senegal’s health ministry rejected the claim as “fake news”.

According to AFP Fact Check, the video contains news footage of a supposed incident in Senegal in which two people were allegedly arrested for falsely claiming they were health ministry officials, there to vaccinate children.

But the incident never happened. A spokesman for Senegal’s armed forces ministry told AFP Fact Check a man selling cosmetics door to door was arrested (and quickly released) after joking that he had vaccines.

“The drama was caused by the fact he was wearing a health ministry T-shirt,” the spokesman added.

A “Russian cluster” of misinformation

Fact checkers in Georgia have determined that the bulk of coronavirus misinformation and disinformation spreading throughout the country is political in nature and being spread by “openly pro-Russian” news websites.

The misleading and false information includes stories that the virus was man-made in the US, that the EU had “abandoned” Italy, and that only authoritative countries like Russia and China could handle the outbreak.

Researchers at Myth Detector, run by Georgia’s not-for-profit Media Development Foundation which is part-funded by the US embassy, found the stories were published by Kremlin-controlled and anti-Western Georgian-language news sites, some of which are BBC and CNN “clones” designed to mislead their audience.

From London

As Boris Johnson continues his recovery from COVID-19, rumours have swirled online that the British prime minister didn’t actually have the disease.

One postshared widely, claims staff at the hospital where Johnson was treated were forced to sign the “Official Secrets Act”. Two doctors apparently refused to do so, and said they didn’t believe the prime minister was actually ill.

But that post was originally written as satire, according to fact checkers at Reuters, who spoke to the author. Full Fact also found the post to be based on satire.

The truth has not stopped the rumour that the PM faked his illness from spreading on Twitter where users have used #OfficialSecretsAct to discuss the conspiracy.

Sites we recommend

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

For more from the RMIT ABC Fact Check team, go here.

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