Separating fact from fiction

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

Syiringe

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.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccination or cure for coronavirus yet. As such, the EU has not adopted or authorized any vaccine against COVID-19 yet. However, the EU has already helped to mobilise €15.9 billion during the Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon for research towards a cure and vaccine. Additionally, the Commission reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in August 2020 to purchase a potential coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, the Commission has been in exploratory talks with several other companies. The EU is trying to ensure safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are available as soon as possible for all those who will need them. Vaccinations are one of the greatest successes in public health. Worldwide, they save at least 2-3 million lives each year – and save many more from crippling and lifelong illnesses. While the EU actively and strongly supports vaccination, it has no wish or plan to impose it on the member states.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people spreading unscientific anti-vaccine claims. These claims prey on people’s fears, causing significant harm to public health. Unsubstantiated claims that vaccines are modifying DNA or are poisoning patients – presented with flawed evidence or scientifically unproven theories - are enough to scare people away from accepting vaccines that could protect them from severe medical complications or even death. COVID-19 has proven to be an exceptionally dangerous virus, putting pressure on medical scientists and virologists around the world to find a cure and distribute it as fast as possible. Taking into account this pressure and that some of the vaccines under development are based on genetically modified viruses, the EU has agreed to speed up the process by derogating to an environmental risk assessment for clinical trials. Vaccines will still have to go through a thorough trial period to ensure they are safe before they are offered to the public.

icon medical

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

Following medical advice from unfamiliar or unreliable sources could endanger your health and deny others critical medication or medical equipment they may need. The EU is funding research on the coronavirus and 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 attacks of malaria), which has received a lot of attention, despite evidence from controlled studies so far showing the that drug is ineffective against the coronavirus. Do not try to self-administer this drug or any other “miracle cure” you see advertised online without consulting your medical practitioner.

On that note, you should be wary of articles sensationalizing positive results from small experimental treatments. When a study has not yet been confirmed by large-scale experimentations and robust evidence, it should not be considered to be an alternative to vaccination strategies. In fact, even if these treatments prove to be effective, it will still be of utmost importance for public health to promote disease prevention and to relieve the burden experienced by our healthcare systems.

At this stage, the Commission has approved one treatment against coronavirus, following a scientific assessment and recommendation by EMA. In late July, the Commission also secured access to 30.000 treatments currently being dispatched to Member States.

mobile phone icon

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 outbreak of coronavirus cases. 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 virus, 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.

Icon with three people holding hands under the globe

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 impose new lockdown measures to contain local increases in 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 €1.85 trillion, will help Europe recover from the crisis and support multiple European sectors coming out of lockdown. This includes major programmes like ‘Next Generation EU’, 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 Next Generation EU fund, 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 launched to help Europeans travel during the coronavirus pandemic, is updated with the latest essential information on travel restrictions and entry requirements in each EU country. While the situation is always evolving, the EU and the Member States are prioritizing people’s safety and well-being, even while people travel.

Syiringe

There is no conspiracy behind the global effort to stop the pandemic; scientists seek a vaccine 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.

icon virus

The coronavirus continues to pose a threat to people’s health and a resurgence of cases in your region is a real possibility

Every generation of Europeans has faced a big challenge or a threat – our generation’s challenge is COVID-19. What makes the coronavirus such a threat is how infectious it is. Anyone can be infected and this can lead to severe complications. Governments, experts and organisations worldwide have recognised the exceptional nature of this virus, with the World Health Organisation continuing to consider it a global pandemic. 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. It is only because of the actions taken by Member States, the EU, and individuals that we managed to avoid the worst – at least for now. We currently do not know how the pandemic will develop in the future, but we have to be prepared for any possibility.

icon data protection

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 new cases are on the rise again, 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. Any coronavirus contact tracing apps will be voluntary, transparent, secure, work across borders and fully respect people's privacy.

In order to facilitate the proper functioning of contact tracing apps, the Commission will be hosting an interoperability gateway. In other words, it will host the 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 travellers and tourists travel safely through Europe while the pandemic is still ongoing.

The Commission has also issued specific guidance so that all apps respect the same standards of personal data protection, security and effectiveness. Using tracing apps will be voluntary, but they only work when a lot of people are using them – which is why everyone must be able to trust them. Several countries around Europe, like Germany and Ireland, have already rolled out Coronavirus contact tracing apps, with more countries planning to launch their own in the coming months.

In addition, the Commission has asked telecom firms to exceptionally provide it with fully anonymised and aggregated mobile metadata to share with the Member States. Through analysing mobility patterns, we will have a better understanding of the interplay between the spread of the virus and the impact of measures taken. The findings will be shared with all Member States. This project does not use personal data and is of course fully compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and ePrivacy legislation – some of the strongest legislation in the world. Individual data sets of people will never be identified.

disinfo

Face masks are complementary to other preventive measures, completely safe, and should be used and disposed of properly after being used.

We all want to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, and face masks can help to keep us safe and healthy during this pandemic if used correctly. Wearing a mask in public is an act of solidarity. If you are infected, you might not experience any symptoms, in which case a face mask can protect others, especially in confined spaces like shops or public transport. 

However, we must not let the use of face masks give us a false sense of total security. Masks are complementary to 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. Otherwise, they can even lead to infections rather than preventing the virus from spreading.

The proper use of a face mask itself does not lead to conditions like hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) or hypercapnia (carbon dioxide poisoning). The EU ensures, via tests carried out before they are exported to the EU and also after their arrival in the Member States, that masks distributed through EU support mechanisms are of sufficient quality. It works hard to ensure proper waste management of masks and medical equipment. It is important to remember that the recommended use of face masks should take the local context and the latest scientific evidence into account. It is important to stay up-to-date with the latest advice of your national health authority.

icon magnified virus

We are all at risk of being infected by the coronavirus

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. You should protect your personal health, safeguard the most vulnerable members of our societies and keep medical services from being overburdened. Washing your hands thoroughly, avoiding touching your face and respecting social distancing in public spaces, as well as isolating if you have the symptoms and seeing your GP – these are the most effective ways to stop the coronavirus from spreading. The World Health Organisation advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus, for example by following good hand and respiratory hygiene and by self-isolating.

Icon with three people holding hands under the globe

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

The fact is that the European institutions and its 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. This response includes: €100 billion under the SURE initiative to finance short-time work schemes, protecting people in work and jobs; €70 billion directly from the EU budget, including to support healthcare systems, SMEs, research and our partners outside the EU; over €200 billion is set to be mobilised to support businesses, especially SMEs, thanks to the European Investment Bank Group; €240 billion from the European Stability Mechanism’s Pandemic Crisis Support to assist Member States with direct and indirect healthcare costs. These actions are complemented by the European Central Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme worth some €1,350 billion in total.

It is important that Europe works together to emerge out of this crisis stronger and more united than ever before. Based on the principles of solidarity and fairness, this is the objective of the next long-term EU budget and recovery plan “Next generation EU” that, once adopted, should help rebuild the European economy and make it fairer, more resilient and more sustainable for future generations.

icon data protection

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

Respecting social distancing and following containment procedures 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. At the same time, the EU is working with Member States to mitigate the effects and challenges of the containment as much as possible. The EU has provided the Member States with a European roadmap of recommendations for a coordinated application of containment measures when necessary to control outbreaks of the coronavirus - all while paying special attention to the continued respect of EU values such as the rule of law and democratic rights. 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 EU is committed to ensuring that these values are upheld across the Union throughout this difficult period and beyond.

robot

The available evidence suggests that the source of coronavirus is of natural animal origin and the outbreak is not an engineered event.

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 from where this virus originated 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.

Small icon showing a radio signal inside a speech bubble

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, undermine 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.

icon worldwide

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 the virus is purposefully being spread by migrants or specific ethnic groups, be assured that there is no scientific basis to such claims. In fact, the coronavirus represents a global crisis that requires global solidarity.

Shield

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 policiesandy 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 has a budget of €9.4 billion, which will provide funding for EU countries, health organizations and NGOs.

law icon

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 also regions within some Member States and the 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 4th 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