MOSTLY FALSE: Graphic of questionable origin misleads with coronavirus ‘facts’

The graphic has been viral on social media and features in Namibian media reports about the coronavirus outbreak that has spread from China to the rest of the world.

The graphic has especially been going viral among WhatsApp groups where it keeps recurring and circulating since about Monday, 27 January 2020, as far as Namibia Fact Check could establish.

The graphic purports to provide ‘The Facts’ about the latest coronavirus (2019-nCoV), but contains a number of errors and misleading information, such as:

  • Identifying the place where the virus originated as the the “South China Seafood Wholesale Market, Wuhan”, whereas more credible sources identify the market as the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market;
  • The graphic does not appear to emanate from any specific health authority, but is a compilation of medical and public service advice and information that appears on the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites about coronaviruses in general, and not specifically related to the novel coronavirus;
  • The graphic states that the virus “spread to humans from an animal – thought to be snake”, but the CDC states as recently as 29 January 2020 that: “Public health officials and partners are working hard to identify the source of the 2019-nCoV”; and, “Analysis of the genetic tree of this virus is ongoing to know the specific source of the virus”;
  • The graphic states: “Most victims of the virus die from complications including pneumonia and swelling in the lungs”. However, at the time of writing this report, on 30 January 2020, the number of confirmed infections worldwide was reported to be 7 811 and the number of deaths 170. This means a death rate of about 3% of the infected, which is certainly not “Most victims”. This mis-phrasing creates the impression that most people who are infected will die;
  • The graphic does not have a logo on it to indicate which organisation created it, whereas health authorities – such as the WHO and CDC – brand all their public information campaign items and info-graphics, as the branding denotes authority and credibility.

In terms of its appearance in more traditional Namibian media, the graphic was first used in an article published on the Informante website on 29 January 2020 (image below).

The graphic appeared prominently in an Informante article published on its website on 29 January 2020.

And then on 30 January 2020 the graphic accompanied an article in the Namibian Sun about the state of preparedness of the country (image below). The graphic was attributed as having been taken from the UK’s The Sun, which is a sensationalist tabloid.

The graphic appeared on page 5 in the Namibian Sun of Thursday, 30 January 2020, accompanying an article about Namibia’s preparedness in dealing with the latest coronavirus outbreak.

For graphics that provide wide-ranging information about the coronavirus and related facts, Namibia Fact Check recommends the WHO website page “Advice for public”. The graphic below was copied from there.

As for detailed information about the novel coronavirus, Namibia Fact Check recommends the CDC’s “About 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)”. The CDC’s “Symptoms” page also contains the below straightforward graphic.

Namibian media and social media users are cautioned and advised to not just take, share or publish graphics and other content or messages from the internet and social media, such as WhatsApp, but to verify information with credible sources or to use graphics and information from such sources for publication and dissemination both online and off-line.

30th January 2020

Frederico Links

Frederico Links is the editor and lead researcher of Namibia Fact Check and a research associate at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)