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Détecteur de rumeurs

No, coronavirus is not overestimated

Les articles du Détecteur de rumeurs sont rédigés par des journalistes
scientifiques de l'Agence Science-Presse. Les Fonds de recherche du Québec et
le Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire sont partenaires du Détecteur de rumeurs.

Auteur : Agence Science Presse - Marion Spée

A YouTube video is shared hundreds of thousands of times. “The figures the medias gives us are false,” the narrator repeats insistently. But his own figures aren’t true, the Rumour Detector finds. Even when they are, his interpretation is faulty.

The author claims “the problem is overestimated”. He argues that the coronavirus only kills a small number of people compared to the number it infects. Over the past few weeks, this type of statement has shown up in several other forms. It’s been found both in social media and some mainstream media.

The video’s author declares: “People die from various causes, but when they’re carriers of the coronavirus, the coronavirus is considered to be the cause.” True or false?

“People who have one or more health problems in addition to COVID-19 may be more subject to complications. So it’s really the virus that kills them.” That’s how Cécile Tremblay responds to the video. Dr. Tremblay is a microbiologist-infectiologist at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). She explains that an inflammatory reaction occurs in some people infected by the virus. This reaction gets out of control and affects the lungs. An oxygen deficiency develops and people suffocate. This means the virus is the direct cause of death for these patients.

The video’s author twice insists that the coronavirus fatality rate is barely 1%. True or false?

He makes this statement immediately after the first claim. This gives the impression that only 1% of the people who die from the coronavirus really die from that cause (and not from other diseases). He refers to figures from the Italian National Institute of Health, dating from March 17. According to the epidemiological report of that time, 0.8% of people who died from the coronavirus didn’t have any other disease. Therefore, over 99% of the people who died from the coronavirus also suffered from at least one other disease. But Dr. Tremblay explains this conclusion is wrong. People who “only” had the coronavirus weren’t the only ones to die from the coronavirus.

The 1% figure emphasized by the author might allude to the lethality rate. That’s the percentage of people who died, out of everyone who had the coronavirus.

This last statement may be true, but it’s premature. The figures on the death rate currently vary from country to country. There are too few screening tests, so it will take months before we can be certain.

The death rate may be 1% or more. But you can’t judge if a virus is dangerous based on this data alone. There are other major factors. One is the ability of the virus to trigger serious complications. Another is the contagion rate. And the data proves this coronavirus is more contagious than the flu.

The video’s author claims: “the problem is overestimated”. True or false?

The author projects that “the number of deaths will reach 20,000 worldwide”. Compared to this, he argues, cancer kills 9 million people every year.

There may have been 20,000 deaths on March 26, when he prepared his video. But the death toll soared past 100,000 on April 10. Less than three months later.

“There’s already a very short time between infection and death in the case of COVID-19,” Cécile Tremblay reminds us. “Also, an acute infectious disease can be avoided by taking adequate measures. So it can’t be compared with a disease like cancer.”

Confinement measures are being imposed on billions of people. Inevitably, this helps reduce the number of deaths compared to what would have happened without confinement.

Even the author’s comparison with the flu is hazardous. According to the World Health Organization, between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths are caused by the flu every year. If the trend continues, COVID-19 could exceed 300,000 deaths this spring. For now, nobody is taking a chance on predicting how many deaths the virus will cause in India and on the African continent. In addition, a second wave of contagion could occur in a few months. That’s what happened with the Spanish flu over a century ago.

The Rumour Detector’s tips

  • Before you share a video, it’s always a good idea to know who the author is. Click on the signature or the “About Us” tab to learn more. If the author is anonymous, as in this case, be suspicious.
  • Look up the other videos published by the same author. If you find that they claim the Earth is flat, the moon landing was faked or the atomic bomb is a hoax, be suspicious.
  • The narrator insists many times that his information “comes from (…) world recognized specialists”. But a researcher’s good or bad reputation isn’t a reason to judge whether a fact is valid or not. This is an opinion.