Separating fact from fiction

Unsure about some of the stories you read? Here are the facts:

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Given the urgency of the current crisis, the EU is taking the necessary steps to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and available to everyone who needs it as soon as possible.

Vaccinations are one of the greatest successes in public health. Worldwide, they save at least 2-3 million lives each year – and many more from crippling and lifelong illnesses. The EU seeks to ensure that safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are available as soon as possible. The Commission has so far reached six Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine developers and negotiations with others are in the pipeline.

Vaccines help protect people from harmful diseases. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, some people have been spreading unscientific anti-vaccine claims. These claims prey on peoples’ fears, potentially causing significant harm to the public health. Misleading information, scientifically unproven theories, and unsubstantiated claims about vaccines modifying DNA or poisoning recipients cause vaccine hesitancy and deter people from being vaccinated.

An unprecedented scientific mobilisation is showing promising results. The coronavirus is exceptionally dangerous and affects our way of life. As such, the global medical research community is focused on developing safe and effective vaccines. Despite the urgency, the vaccine candidates still have to go through a rigorous assessment by the European Medicines Agency to ensure that they are effective and safe before being offered to the public. Thanks to a huge mobilisation of resources and expertise at every stage, the development process has been made more efficient.

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There is a consensus among scientists and policy makers that lockdowns save lives, but also that they are not a feasible long-term option to address the pandemic.

The EU and all its Member States will always put people’s health and livelihoods first. Across Europe, the number of new cases has recently increased rapidly, forcing most countries to implement temporary lockdown measures f or a second time. It is in everyone’s interest to keep the lockdowns as short as possible, but this is only possible if they have the desired effect: significantly reducing the number of new infections. Stopping the spread of the coronavirus also depends on how well people follow coronavirus guidelines, such as mask wearing in public and social distancing.

Policy-makers and scientists are aware that lockdowns are costly and not a feasible long-term option as they disproportionately affect the poor, families with young children, and workers who cannot work from home. They place a heavy burden on the economy, and are detrimental to people’s mental health and well-being. Temporary lockdown measures are necessary in some situations to give health-care services enough time to get the situation under control and avoid the worst-case scenario.

As the coronavirus spreads through contact with liquid droplets and longer-range transmission via aerosols, especially in conditions where ventilation is poor, limiting contact between people is the most reliable way to break infection chains. Allowing the coronavirus to continue spreading uncontrolled would eventually overwhelm the health-care services, which could lead to higher mortality rates.

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The lockdown measures across Europe are temporary and do not signal the end of democracy or European values.

Respecting social distancing and following COVID-19 guidelines saves lives and stems the spread of the coronavirus. These measures are based on the latest scientific evidence and data available to decision-makers in each Member State. National governments and the Commission are also aware of the mental and economic toll these lockdowns have on the population, and are committed to getting the virus under control and reopening the EU as quickly as possible.

Fundamental European values such as the freedom of movement and expression are integral to the EU's model and way of life, and these areas are more important than ever in this time of crisis. The current lockdown measures do not signal an end or compromise on these values, but are necessary to deal with the rapid increase in new cases of the coronavirus seen during this resurgence. Once this resurgence is under control, just like with the first wave, temporary restrictions will be lifted and Europeans will be able to resume their normal movements. These measures came in response to an extremely dire situation. The EU is committed to ensuring that these values are upheld across the Union throughout this difficult period and beyond.

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Be wary of people online claiming they have found a “miracle cure”

Following medical advice from unfamiliar or unreliable sources could endanger your health. The EU is funding research on the coronavirus, possible treatments and vaccines. When a breakthrough is made, we will all know about it. Until then, be wary of any treatments that have yet to be approved and widely distributed. If you would not trust it normally, do not trust it now!

Think twice before sharing any information that you see on social media about treatments and be sure to crosscheck information on new developments with trusted sources. One such example is the discussion around Hydroxychloroquine (a drug used to prevent and treat malaria), which has received a lot of attention, despite evidence from controlled studies so far showing that the drug is ineffective against the coronavirus. Do not self-administer this drug or any other “miracle cure”. You can stay up to date on all the potential Covid-19 treatments and medicines on European Medicines Agency’s website.

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The coronavirus can only spread from one person to another through droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale, not via mobile networks.

A very common myth perpetuated online is that the roll-out of 5G networks is behind the coronavirus pandemic. This is false. Conspiracy theories incorrectly linking 5G and the coronavirus pandemic are conflating the two, possibly because they are both relatively new and invisible to the human eye. 5G is simply the next generation of mobile networks and, like the current 4G networks, cannot interact with a virus. 5G uses radio waves to connect different devices and is not a vector for the coronavirus, which only survives in liquid droplets. Even more damning evidence against this myth is that the coronavirus has spread around the world, while 5G networks have not yet been deployed everywhere. Many countries that do not have any 5G networks have had large coronavirus outbreaks. There is simply no correlation between the coronavirus and 5G networks.

Protecting people is the top priority of the EU, which is why EU exposure limits follow the “better safe than sorry” approach. In fact, EU exposure limits for the general public, including for 5G, are 50 times lower than what (according the available scientific evidence) might have an impact on people’s health. All 5G installations have to meet these incredibly high standards before being allowed to operate. If there was no way to use 5G without endangering the health and wellbeing of people in Europe, the EU would not have recommended its use and Member States would have banned it.

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The EU has a coordinated plan for Europe’s recovery, by supporting people and businesses while continuing to address health concerns.

Even as countries across Europe are in lockdown again to contain the rising coronavirus cases, the EU is focusing its efforts on restarting economic activity and building a fairer, greener, more digital Europe. The Recovery Plan, with its overall budget of €1.8 trillion, will help Europe recover from the crisis and support multiple European sectors coming out of lockdown. This includes major programmes like NextGenerationEU, which will ensure that the recovery is sustainable, inclusive and fair for everyone – including those in rural areas and those who were hit hard by the crisis. The NextGenerationEU instrument, which was created with input of all Member States, will increase economic activity across the EU. Receiving funds will be conditional on enacting economic reforms, but without imposing austerity measures.

 

The EU is also keen on ensuring that citizens can continue traveling in Europe without putting themselves at risk of catching the virus. Re-open EU, the web platform originally launched to help Europeans travel during the coronavirus pandemic, has been turned into a one-stop-shop for information about the state of health measures, restrictions and travel possibilities across the EU. The EU and the Member States are prioritising people’s safety and well-being.

 

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There is no conspiracy behind the global effort to stop the pandemic - scientists seek vaccines for all

If a theory presents you with a very convenient scapegoat that you can blame for all our problems, you should think twice before trusting it. Generally, conspiracy theories are captivating because they present you with overly simple and straightforward answers to complex questions. They have predictable formats and focus on a clear and easily identifiable ‘enemy’. They follow formulaic, predictable blueprints that are replicated in various scenarios, only changing to focus on different actors. Do not let these overly simplistic and false solutions to this complex health crisis fool you. 

One such theory claims – with no credible evidence to support it - that Bill Gates is the creator of the coronavirus as a part of some nefarious scheme. This is obviously not true. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a long history of fighting to eradicate dangerous diseases around the world, like polio. In order to overcome the coronavirus, the Foundation has donated $125 million towards the independent, collective international effort to develop and deploy coronavirus diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines. The foundation also actively contributed to and supported the Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon initiated by the European Commission on 4 May, which registered €15,9 billion in pledges from donors to help fund the development and universal deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus. Of course, any coronavirus vaccine will have to go through rigorous clinical trials before being approved.

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The EU has some of the strongest data protection and privacy rules in the world. The coronavirus pandemic does not change that.

Digital technologies can protect and save lives. For example, the voluntary use of coronavirus tracing and warning apps can play a key role in all phases of the crisis and, particularly now that we see a resurgence, complement other measures like increased testing. Such apps can help stop the virus from spreading by breaking infection chains and alerting users who have come into close proximity with an infected person. All coronavirus contact-tracing apps must be used voluntarily transparent, secure, work across borders and fully respect people's privacy.

In order to facilitate the proper functioning of contact tracing apps, the Commission is hosting an interoperability gateway: a digital infrastructure needed to ensure national app servers can communicate information between them. This solution, covering the vast majority of tracing apps launched in the EU, will support both business travelers and tourists travel safely through Europe while the pandemic is still ongoing.

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Facemasks help keep you healthy, are completely safe, and should be used and disposed of properly.

We all want to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, and facemasks can help to keep us safe and healthy during this pandemic if used correctly. They can severely limit the spread of the coronavirus, especially in enclosed spaces. If you are infected you might not experience any symptoms, in which case a facemask can protect others.

Masks are complemented by other preventive techniques, like washing hands and social distancing, and cannot on their own guarantee full protection. They need to be worn and removed correctly. The proper use of a facemask itself does not lead to conditions like hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) or hypercapnia (carbon dioxide poisoning). The EU ensures that masks distributed through EU support mechanisms are of sufficient quality through tests before delivery.

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The coronavirus can infect and develop complications for anyone, even if they are in a low-risk group.

Every generation of Europeans has faced a big challenge or a threat – our generation’s challenge is the coronavirus. What makes the coronavirus such a threat is how infectious it is. Anyone can be infected and this can lead to severe complications, even among the otherwise young and healthy.

The EU has responded by prioritising the protection of lives and livelihoods, working closely with Member States to coordinate and share information, as well as using every tool at its disposal to slow down the spread and to find solutions. We currently do not know how the pandemic will develop in the future, but we have to be prepared for any possibility.

Both the youth and the elderly are at risk when ignoring official advice. There is currently no coronavirus vaccine and there is still some uncertainty as regards the natural immunity after being infected. Moreover, we still do not know what the long-term effects of the virus are. Scientific research is still on going and we simply do not know enough about the virus to assess how much damage it can do. What we do know is that anyone could suffer from it.

Everyone has a role to play in fighting the virus. It includes washing your hands thoroughly, avoiding touching your face and respecting social distancing in public spaces, as well as isolating if you have the symptoms.

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EU countries remain the best partners for each other – and are stepping up their solidarity.

The fact is that the European institutions and their partners are doing more for Europeans than anyone else in the world. EU institutions have not been given responsibility for public health matters by the Member States, but the EU has tools like coordination capabilities and can issue health and safety recommendations. We are using every tool at our disposal to fight the coronavirus: from keeping borders open for supplies, to helping Member States coordinate and share experience, and to providing large amounts of financial, medical assistance, personnel and much more.

The coronavirus represents a major shock for the global and European economies. The Commission is using all tools at its disposal to respond quickly, forcefully and in a coordinated manner to protect citizens and mitigate the negative socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. So far, the EU’s economic response has reached €3.7 trillion. In addition, to prevent mass lay-offs, the Commission set up a €100 billion European instrument to support short-time work – Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) with a large majority of Member States having already benefitted from disbursements. Based on the principles of solidarity and fairness, the next long-term EU budget and recovery plan NextGenerationEU, once adopted, should help rebuild the European economy and make it fairer, more resilient and more sustainable for future generations.

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The available evidence suggests that the origin of coronavirus is natural.

It is more important than ever to work together in solidarity with countries across the globe to fight the coronavirus. Disinformation and baseless accusations over the origin of the coronavirus can easily damage vital international support networks and could put many lives at risk. We must cooperate with others and recognise that so far there is no scientific evidence that the coronavirus was created in a lab, whether by accident or on purpose.

The COVID-19 disease is caused by a strain of coronavirus (which is itself a type of virus) called Sars-CoV-2. Coronaviruses cause respiratory illnesses and can be transmitted from animals to humans. This current form of coronavirus is understood to have passed to humans in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, where the virus was first reported to the World Health Organisation on 31 December 2019. Important and necessary questions must be asked about the reporting and handling of the outbreak. Based upon everything we know, this event is a wholly natural occurrence. Blaming others for this disease will not make the current situation better – only together can Europe, and the world, overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

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While the EU works cooperatively and constructively with its neighbours, we will always disclose harmful disinformation and its sources.

Disinformation hurts our ability to make good decisions by overwhelming you with conflicting information, confusing you and making you unsure. The consequences can be serious – it can even threaten people’s safety, damage trust in governments and media, undermining our global role. We are particularly vulnerable to disinformation in moments of stress – and some people are using the coronavirus pandemic to strike when we are at our most vulnerable.

Analysts at EUvsDisinfo find that false information and claims are being actively spread around the world to spread confusion and mistrust around Europe’s response to the coronavirus. Foreign actors including third countries, in particular in Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around the coronavirus in the EU, its neighbourhood and globally, seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the coronavirus context. The best response is to call out these attempts, identify those responsible and tell the truth ourselves early and often. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the European External Action Service work to identify and raise awareness about the spread of disinformation on the virus.

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Viruses do not care about where you are from. They do not care about your ethnicity or which passport you hold.

In different parts of the world, people are trying to blame the coronavirus on different groups – calling it the European virus, the Chinese virus, or the American virus. The fact is that this is a virus that spreads from one infected person to another through droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale, and is not carried by any particular population or group. If you read that migrants or specific ethnic groups are purposefully spreading the virus, be assured that there is no scientific basis to such claims. In fact, the coronavirus represents a global crisis that requires global solidarity.

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The EU supports Member States’ investments in public health

The EU supports solid investment in public health and the EU fiscal rules have never required cuts in this area. In Europe, people and their health come first and public spending on healthcare has increased in most EU states over the past decade. It is a policy that has consistently been distinctive to the European Union across the world. The EU recently launched a plan to support countries through the crisis, relaxing rules so that countries can spend more on emergency services and focus on what matters most – protecting people.

This is not new either – since the financial crash of 2008, the EU has put multiple financial initiatives in place to support all Member States – particularly in those most adversely affected by the crisis, such as Greece, Spain and Italy. Countries like Greece did not see their healthcare systems damaged by these reforms – on the contrary, the EU Stability Support Programme has helped reinforce universal healthcare coverage and a comprehensive healthcare system. As well as supporting small businesses, research and innovation and climate-related projects, the Investment Plan has helped finance a large number of projects in the health sector, such as developing new cancer treatments and expanding and modernising hospitals. The Commission also tabled the EU4Health programme to reinforce the EU’s actions against pandemics. The programme is expected to have a budget of €5.1 billion, which will provide funding for EU countries, health organisations and NGOs.

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The EU is taking care of the things it is responsible for so governments can stay focused on their priorities.

The ability to pass national laws and take decisions to tackle the coronavirus rests entirely with Member States and some regions within Member States. The European Commission does not have a right to interfere in national legislation and decisions on subjects such as health. On the other hand, the EU can put together European policies and coordinate pan-European initiatives to tackle the crisis together with Member States. An example of this is that the decision to go into ‘lockdown’ and to close a country’s borders is made on a national level, whilst the mobilisation of over €100 million to find a vaccine, new treatments and diagnostic tests is made on an EU level from the EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. This joined the Commission's current €15.9 billion pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response initiative, launched by President von der Leyen on 4 May.

Don’t be fooled by bots

Identifying conspiracy theories

The coronavirus outbreak has been accompanied by waves of dangerous conspiracy theories, spreading mostly online. These theories present pernicious, far-fetched explanations on where the virus might have originated and on who is to blame for its spread. As part of the comprehensive approach to tackle the negative impact of conspiracy theories, the European Commission and UNESCO are publishing a set of accessible educational infographics with the aim to help citizens identify – and counter – conspiracy theories.

Learn more

Beware of online scams

Beware of online scams related to products that claim they can cure or prevent COVID-19 infections. Rogue traders may advertise or attempt to sell products such as protective masks or hand sanitizers which allegedly can prevent or cure an infection but these products may be fake and you might be scammed. You can find advice here that can help you detect and avoid potential scams.

Online resources and tools

Discover a selection of online resources and tools for learners, teachers and educators during the outbreak of COVID-19.

Read our Medium post on the 5 useful things to know about the coronavirus