GroundUp Staff
3 minute read
7 Apr 2020
11:27 am

From unsafe swabs to Gaddafi and Obama, beware these fake claims about Covid-19

GroundUp Staff

GroundUp has debunked some of the nonsense being spread about the pandemic, although there is far more out there.

Stephen Birch, a conspiracy theorist and spreader of fake, dangerous information about Covid-19.

Many untested and false claims are being made about Covid-19 and spread on social media. Here we list and debunk claims that appear to have gained traction among some South Africans. We will try to keep this page updated, debunking the latest nonsense.

False: Testing swabs are contaminated with Covid-19
True: Testing swabs are perfectly safe

A video in which a Cape Town man, Stephen Birch, sticks a cotton bud up his nose while falsely proclaiming that contaminated coronavirus test kits are being used to spread the virus has gone viral.

Testing swabs used in South Africa are sterile and are not contaminated. It’s perfectly safe to have a Covid-19 test.

A criminal charge was laid against Birch for contravening South Africa’s national disaster regulations and a man fitting his description but not actually named by the police until he could appear in court was arrested on Monday.

In the video, Birch quotes a story in a British newspaper claiming that virus testing kits destined for the UK were found to have been contaminated. Even assuming the story is true, in its original version published by the The Telegraph it is clear that the problem was found and rectified before any kits were distributed. Also it is irrelevant to what’s happening in South Africa.

In his video Birch irresponsibly asks people not to participate in the new door-to-door testing campaign that has been launched in South Africa.

Birch is a conspiracy theorist. His latest video missive on Facebook warns of the dangers of 5G without quoting any credible source – much like he did with the “contaminated” test kits video. There is no proof that 5G is a health hazard. That scare emanates from flawed research that has been seized on by people who believe it is true and regularly quote it as “proof”.

False: Alkaline diets help against Covid-19
True: Alkaline diets don’t help against disease and may even be dangerous


A message being circulated on WhatsApp claims to finally be “some sensible advice” from a UK nurse. The message indeed does contain some common sense good advice, like washing your hands. But then it devolves into nonsense. In particular it claims that the pH for the coronavirus varies from 5.5 to 8.5 and that “to beat coronavirus” you need to eat alkaline foods about the virus’ pH level. There is not a shred of evidence to support this claim.

Your blood’s pH is about 7.4 and nothing you eat will change it. If it does, you’ll need a fast trip to the emergency room to save your life. For more on why high alkaline diets are not what they’re cracked up to be, read this article.

False: Coronavirus is man-made
True: Scientists have analysed the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and concluded that it evolved in animals – probably bats or pangolins


We do not know if former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi actually said what this image being circulated on WhatsApp ascribes to him. But beyond reasonable doubt the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 evolved naturally in animals and spread to humans unintentionally.

Scientists have actually looked into the possibility that the coronavirus was artificially made.

Writing in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal, Nature, they concluded: “It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”

False: Barack Obama has recommended against using vaccines
True: Barack Obama supports the use of vaccines


A WhatsApp message falsely claims that former US president Barack Obama is asking Africans not to accept vaccines from Europe and America. The claim is entirely false.

Obama has never said any such thing. Vaccines in the South African public health system are safe, manufactured and tested across the world and save lives. At the time of writing (6 April 2020) there is no vaccine for Covid-19.

Barack Obama supports the use of vaccines as this article explains.

Republished from GroundUp

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