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VERIFY: Fact-checking viral coronavirus videos and claims

The VERIFY team is tackling the authenticity of videos and claims about a spreading virus that originated in Wuhan, China.

As a new coronavirus continues to spread globally, including to the United States, conversations about its severity and transmission are popping up online.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is one confirmed case of the disease in the U.S., where a person in Washington state brought it back after traveling to China. 

Among those online conversations about the illness are a number of videos and claims that seem to make the situation appear worse than it might be reported. 

Below are a few of those videos and claims. These videos look frightening because of their context. They’re being compared to apocalyptic horror movies, but the reality is that they show systems working.

China is currently treating the coronavirus like a Grade A infectious disease. That means they will treat it with their strictest prevention and control measures. This includes mandatory quarantine of patients and medical observation of those who have close contact with them. 

They do this as a preventative method to stop further spread of the virus. Seeing full-body suits and protection is not inherently an indication that the situation is critical or worse than reported.

Airplane video

The VERIFY team was able to trace this video, which has been viewed more than one million times on Twitter, back to a post on Chinese social media site Weibo. The post, from the state-owned Beijing News, says that the video was taken on January 12 and submitted to them by a person who had flown from Wuhan to Macau.

The video shows people wearing masks putting devices to passengers’ heads. These are infrared thermometers, likely similar to the ones for sale here, that are being used to check passengers for a fever.

What you’re seeing in the video is a real screening policy Chinese officials have enacted to try and curb the spread of the disease. Wuhan’s city government is requiring all passengers who travel abroad to undergo body temperature checks and have installed 300 portable thermometers, such as the ones in the video, in the city’s airports.

Since this video was posted, Chinese state media announced that Wuhan has suspended flights and trains leaving the city.

Hazmat doctors

The next video shows doctors in hazmat suits working in a hospital. It has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

We couldn’t find a source for this specific video. However, we can confirm these are real suits being worn by doctors in China.

Once again, the Beijing News Weibo proves to be useful. They have uploaded two videos where they document and interview hospital workers wearing these same suits.

This is done in an effort to keep medical workers safe from an illness which the exact methods of transmission are still unknown. Chinese government officials ordered stricter preventive measures at hospitals and better protection for medical workers. That came after a Wuhan Health Commission report on Tuesday which said 15 medical workers had become infected.

The goal with these hazmat suits is to prevent more medical workers from being infected.

Quarantined patient

This video, which has more than 140,000 views, is missing context.

First of all, the caption in the tweet refers to a patient in Washington state who has the disease. This video is not of that patient and was not taken in Washington.

Credit: VERIFY

The video itself is labeled Wuhan, China, in the top left corner but that’s not right either. This video was taken in Huizhou in China’s Guangdong province along the coast. The person in the video was suspected of being infected with the coronavirus, but wasn’t confirmed to be.

The footage comes from Radio Free Asia, a media company funded by the American government. The information about the location of the footage and the status of the patient comes from their caption on the video.

As we mentioned before, China is treating this illness as a Grade A infectious disease, meaning they will apply their strictest prevention and control measures in handling it.

Claims of cover-ups

While not videos, there have also been claims that the Chinese government is covering up facts about the disease including its severity and spread. At the moment, there is no evidence of this happening.

Credit: VERIFY

The World Health Organization has worked directly with Chinese authorities in investigating and handling this disease, and in a press conference praised China’s transparency in regard to it. 

The CDC stated that Chinese health authorities posted the full genome of the virus in global databases.

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