Viral influencer video full of false Covid-19 claims

26 January 2021
What was claimed

If all the other lockdowns haven’t worked, why would this one be any different?

Our verdict

False. The government estimates locking down in the spring saved thousands of lives compared with doing nothing.

What was claimed

The reason why there are more cases is because they are testing more people.

Our verdict

It’s true more people are being tested than ever before, but we also know deaths and hospitalisations have increased.

What was claimed

65,000 deaths tested positive for coronavirus within 30 days of their death, so they could have died of a heart attack or a stroke or cancer, but it will go down as a Covid death.

Our verdict

Some deaths unrelated to Covid-19 may happen within 28 days of a positive test but this makes very little difference to the figures. Up to the week ending 15 January, 85,321 deaths were registered in England and Wales with Covid-19 recorded as the underlying cause of death by a medical professional.

What was claimed

Bacterial pneumonia is caused by people wearing masks and is massively on the rise.

Our verdict

There is no evidence that wearing a mask can cause bacterial pneumonia, or that deaths from pneumonia have increased.

What was claimed

Suicides have increased during lockdown.

Our verdict

It is too soon to know what impact the pandemic has had on the suicide rate. There is currently no evidence of a dramatic increase.

What was claimed

National Child Mortality Database identified deaths in under 18s increased dramatically in the first lockdown.

Our verdict

This is wrong. The NCMD said there had been a slight increase but the numbers were too small to draw definite conclusions.

What was claimed

A survey from Samaritans said one in four people had suicidal thoughts during lockdown.

Our verdict

A survey done between March and May 2020 found that 1 in 10 people had suicidal thoughts.

What was claimed

Children aren’t affected by Covid-19 and don’t transmit the virus.

Our verdict

This is not true. Children are less affected but some can still become seriously ill or die. They do transmit the virus.

What was claimed

Children won’t be allowed back to school unless they’ve been tested.

Our verdict

This is incorrect. Testing in schools is voluntary.

What was claimed

Up to 93% of PCR tests are false positives.

Our verdict

This is wrong. It has been estimated that the false positive rate is very low.

What was claimed

The government can introduce restrictions on Universal Credit where you can’t get it unless you get tested and unless you get a vaccine.

Our verdict

The government has confirmed this is untrue and there are no plans to do this.

What was claimed

53 million tests means that they have 53 millions people’s DNA on file.

Our verdict

This is wrong. No record of the patient’s DNA is taken in the testing process and the majority of test samples are destroyed.

What was claimed

Mental health is an exemption of Tier 4 and Tier 5 -- you can go out and see a friend, you can leave your house.

Our verdict

You can leave your house during lockdown for specific reasons, regardless of mental health, for example, to meet one local friend for exercise.

A viral video of an influencer spreading on social media makes a number of incorrect claims about the coronavirus pandemic, including its impact on children and suicide rates and misinformation about testing and face masks.

“They’ve introduced mandatory masks, social distancing and all these measures, closed primary schools and closed secondary schools, and closed non-essential shops, and yet nothing has worked. If all the other lockdowns haven’t worked, why would this be any different?”.

We have written about the effectiveness of lockdowns before, explaining how the spring lockdown was responsible for the reduction in Covid-19 deaths. A detailed government estimate suggests that locking down in the spring did save many thousands of lives, compared with no lockdown or social distancing measures, largely because it prevented the health service being overwhelmed.

“The reason why there are more cases is because they are testing more people.”

The original video was posted after the announcement of the new national lockdown on 4 January, at which point the number of new cases in the UK was rising though it has now started to fall.

There is a legitimate argument that we know of more cases because of increased testing, and the UK is currently testing more people than ever before. However, when we look at the number of patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and the number of deaths, there was a significant increase in both since December on a similar scale to deaths during the first wave. 

This shows that there has been a genuine increase in the number of people with Covid-19, not just an increase caused by more mild cases being picked up because of testing.

“They are saying in England there has been 2.2 million confirmed cases and 65,000 deaths. So out of those 65,000 deaths, 388 of those were under 60 and no pre-existing conditions. [...] This isn’t 65,000 deaths from covid, this is 65,000 deaths that had tested positive within coronavirus within 30 days of their death. So someone could have died of a heart attack or a stroke or cancer, but if they tested positive within 30 days then it will go down as [a Covid death].”

In England, government data shows there have been 86,522 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, and more than 3.6 million cases as of 25 January. Up to the week ending 15 January, 85,321 deaths were registered in England and Wales with Covid-19 as the underlying cause of death, according to a medical professional. This means these people died of Covid, not a heart attack or stroke or cancer.

The most recent weekly NHS data, up to 21 January, reports 486 deaths of people under the age of 60 who had no pre-existing conditions and died after a positive test. However, it is important to understand what is classed as a ‘pre-existing condition’. This category includes people who have received treatment for a mental health condition, people with a learning disability or autism, and people with asthma, diabetes or dementia. 

It is misleading to suggest that all deaths of people with a pre-existing condition were already seriously ill. 

“Bacterial pneumonia, which is caused by people wearing masks, which is massively on the rise.”

Most cases of pneumonia are bacterial and there is no evidence that masks cause it. Claiming a link between masks and pneumonia is not new, and it has been debunked by various different fact-checkers

The Associated Press looked into this claim in June, and were told by infectious disease specialist Davidson Harmer that there is “no evidence of masks leading to fungal or bacterial infections of the upper airway or the lower airway as in pneumonia”. He said theoretically bacterial growth could occur if someone wore a mask that was contaminated with moisture and became mouldy, but that was highly unlikely with normal mask use.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which cover non-Covid deaths recorded up to 10 July 2020, found deaths from influenza and pneumonia were slightly below average levels from May onwards—despite the wearing of face coverings first becoming mandatory on public transport in June

The ONS said: “It could be that increased social distancing has led to reduced infection rates for flu and other infectious conditions, or that some of the population susceptible to flu have died due to other causes such as Covid-19.” Either way, there is no evidence of an increase in pneumonia deaths.

“We have the highest rate of suicide since World War Two [...] Our suicides are as high now as they were back then [...] Male suicides are the highest for two decades and suicides in general have increased by up to 145%.”

As we have written before, we do not yet fully know what impact the pandemic has had on suicides. 

The 145% figure may come from an article in the British Medical Journal which said: “Widely reported studies modelling the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on suicide rates predicted increases ranging from 1% to 145%.”

The 145% figure specifically came from a paper which used the increased suicide risk for prisoners in Switzerland, to model the impact of lockdown. 

A review of the scientific literature into suicide risk notes: “Prison confinement is probably not a good proxy for effects of lockdown”. And, regardless, this figure is based on a model estimate, not actual data.  

The most recent figures on suicides were released by the ONS in December, covering deaths registered up to September 2020. However, there is a difference between the date a death is registered and the date a death happened. The ONS said the figures cannot show the actual number of suicides that took place in 2020, as only 40% of the suicides registered up to September actually happened in 2020. 

All suicides are investigated by a coroner, and it often takes around five to six months before a death by suicide can be registered. The ONS previously warned that the low number of suicides registered between April and June 2020 “likely reflects delays to inquests because of the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on the coroner’s service.”

The ONS said suicide rates for both genders between July and September 2020 were “similar to rates observed in the same quarter in previous years.” Figures between July and September are much higher than those for the period between April and June, but the ONS said this “likely reflects the resuming of coroner’s inquests as opposed to a genuine increase in suicide”.

These figures do not suggest suicide rates have risen by 145%. Suicides are not at their highest point since World War Two, although the total number of excess deaths is (the number of deaths above the past five-year average).

“The National Child Mortality Database identified deaths in under 18s increased dramatically in the first lockdown.”

The National Child Mortality Database published a report on child suicide rates during the pandemic in July. Using real-time surveillance, it found that in the 82 days before lockdown there were 26 likely child suicides and a further 25 in the first 56 days of lockdown.

It did not warn of a dramatic increase. The report said: “There is a concerning signal that child suicide deaths may have increased during the first 56 days of lockdown, but risk remains low and numbers are too small to reach definitive conclusions.”

“The Samaritans did a study of 3,077 adults from 18 to 60, and one in four said they had suicidal thoughts. [...] three out of four suffered with depression, anxiety, levels of defeat or severe loneliness. So three quarters of the people that they studied suffered from mental health effects of this lockdown.

A survey of this size did take place, but the video has misreported the results.

The University of Glasgow, in partnership with The Samaritans, released a study in October, looking at the impact lockdown between 31 March and 11 May 2020 had on the mental health and wellbeing of the UK public. 

This study found that thoughts of suicide increased during this period, but not as much as claimed in the video: rather than one in four adults saying they had suicidal thoughts, the results were closer to one in 10. 

The study said 21% of participants had symptoms of moderate or severe levels of anxiety at the start of the lockdown, although this decreased as time went on. 26% had symptoms of moderate or severe levels of depression with no real change across the first six weeks, which may be what the “one in four” claim was meant to refer to. Feelings of defeat and entrapment decreased over time, while positive wellbeing increased.

Although the findings of the study were not as dramatic as claimed in the video, researchers said there was cause for concern. It warned that the mental health and wellbeing of women, young adults, the socially disadvantaged and those with pre-existing mental health problems were particularly affected. It also noted that the rising rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults, was “particularly concerning”. 

“A Freedom of Information request showed that prescriptions for sleeping pills for under 18s rose by 30% from March 2020 to June 2020.”

This is correct. In October, The Guardian reported that freedom of information figures showed prescriptions for sleeping pills for under-18s rose 30% between March and June 2020 compared with two years ago.

“Children don’t get affected by [Covid-19] [...] Children aren’t carriers and children aren’t transmitting this virus.”

We know that children are less likely to be affected by Covid-19 than adults are but can still get seriously ill. In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) said data suggests that children under 18 represent about 8.5% of reported cases, “with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups and usually mild disease”. However, it also warned that “cases of critical illness have been reported.” ONS figures show that, in 2020, the deaths of  20 people aged 19 years or younger were registered with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate in England and Wales.

We know that children can transmit the virus. A paper presented to SAGE in December warned that evidence suggested children were giving the virus to each other when schools were open and can “transmit within households as well as in educational settings”. It cited evidence that indicates children aged between 12 and 16 were playing more of a role in introducing infection into households than those aged 17 or over.

“Now that they’ve closed all the schools, it’s going to be you can’t go back to school until your child has been tested. It’s going to be weekly lateral flow testing.”

This is not correct. Back in December, the Department for Education (DfE) announced that every secondary school and college in England, as well as special schools and alternative provision, would have access to weekly rapid coronavirus testing from January. (Although it has been paused and may now be scrapped.)

In a blog post the DfE said the tests wouldn’t be compulsory, but staff and students who experience Covid-19 symptoms must follow government guidance if they get symptoms. An NHS testing handbook for schools confirmed testing is voluntary and pupils, or their parents or guardians, will have to give medical consent. 

“Up to 93% of false positives PCR testing...”

This claim could refer to two things, the idea that 93% of positive tests are false (because the people tested don’t have the virus), or the idea that 93% of people who are actually negative test positive incorrectly, which is also called the false positive rate. Neither of these things are correct.  

To start with the false positive rate, the maximum positivity rate throughout the pandemic was during the first wave when, at one point, 30% of all tests were positive. Even if literally all those people actually did not have the virus (which is implausible) that would mean the false positive rate could not be higher than 30%.

The false positive rate of PCR tests is not known but in general, they seem to rarely give false positives. 

The idea that 93% of positive tests are false may be plausible when there is very little Covid-19 going around. For example, if the disease was completely eradicated, but one person tested positive, then the proportion of positive tests which were false would be 100%. But that isn’t the case now. 

In early July, only around 0.3% of tests were coming back positive. So even if, at the time, all of these positives were false, then you’d expect no more than 0.3% of all tests to be false positives at any given time. The current positivity rate is around 7%. That increase can only have been caused by an increase in the number of real infections. Far less than 93% of positive tests are false.

The claim that 93% of PCR tests are false positives may come from a misinterpretation of statements made by various politicians in October about some research from Public Health England. 

This estimated that, if someone with the virus was not symptomatic when they got on a flight to the UK, or they tested negative on departure, there was a 7% chance they would test positive by the time they landed.In other words, the false negative rate, not the false positive rate of PCR tests, was estimated to be 93%, and only among this extremely specific group of people at a very specific point in time.

“The problem is when you’re then relying on the state and you’re on universal credit [...] it’s very, very, very hard to get away from them. When you’re relying on them for your money every single month, they’ve got you. Because then they can do ‘well if you’re not getting tested you’re not getting your money. If you don’t get the vaccine you’re not getting your money’.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions told Full Fact: “These suggestions are entirely false and that there are no plans to introduce such restrictions.”

“53 million tests - that means that they have 53 million people’s DNA [the government] now has on file.”

The latest government figures show nearly 66 million tests have been carried out in the UK as of 25 January. When the video was made, around 54 million tests had been carried out. This doesn’t tell us how many people have been tested, as some people are tested more than once. 

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Full Fact that DNA is not sequenced or used at any stage in the Covid testing process, and PCR tests target genes from the virus and do not involve any kind of DNA record. DHSC said the vast majority of test samples are destroyed as clinical waste, while a small number of positive samples are retained to use for the development of testing techniques and processes and checking the effectiveness of new laboratories or machinery. 

“Mental health is an exemption of Tier 4 and Tier 5 -- so if you are suffering with your mental health or you’re alone or you’re a single parent or you’re fleeing domestic violence, you are allowed to go o out your house, you are allowed to see a friend, you are allowed to go and get help. You do not have to stay in your house.”

It’s true that most people can leave their houses to see a friend in tier 4 or during the national lockdown enacted in January 2021. A national lockdown was introduced rather than raising the tier system to tier 5, while tier 4 was the stage implemented in some locations before full lockdown (but had largely the same restrictions on the individual).  

Although government advice is to stay at home, you have always been allowed to leave your house for certain reasons, regardless of your mental health. This includes shopping for necessities, exercise, seeking medical assistance or avoiding injury, illness or risk of harm—including fleeing domestic violence—and attending education or childcare.

It is also possible to still see a friend. Single adult households can form a support bubble or childcare bubble, and you are allowed to exercise in a public outdoor place with one other person who you do not live with. This should only be once a day, and you should remain two metres apart and not travel outside of your local area. 

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