Separating fact from fiction

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

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The coronavirus does not care what mobile network we use; it can only spread from one person to another through droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale.

A very common myth perpetuated online is that the roll-out of 5G networks is behind the outbreak of coronavirus cases, which is false. The conspiracy theories incorrectly linking 5G and coronavirus 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 that can only survive in liquid droplets. Even more damning evidence against this fabricated myth is that Coronavirus cases appeared around the world, but 5G has not been adopted everywhere yet. Many countries where 5G networks have not been deployed have nevertheless seen large Coronavirus outbreaks. There is simply no correlation between coronavirus outbreaks and 5G deployments.

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 5G posed any danger to 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 post-lockdown recovery, supporting people and businesses while continuing to address health concerns

Now that countries across Europe are emerging from the lockdown, the EU is focusing its efforts on restarting economic activity and building a fairer, greener, more digital Europe. The recently announced 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 hard hit by the crisis. The Next Generation EU fund, which was created with input of all Member States, will increase economic activity in the bloc. Receiving funds will be conditional on enacting economic reforms, but without imposing austerity measures.

The EU is also keen to ensure that citizens can enjoy themselves and get some well-earned respite from this crisis: new rules were issued for pre-arranged and customised package holidays, to ensure people’s safety and protection, as well as help to restart Europe’s travel and tourism sector. “Re-Open EU”, a web platform containing essential information on travel restrictions in each EU country, was launched recently for anyone looking to travel in Europe this summer.

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No supervillain behind the global effort to stop the pandemic - scientists seek a vaccine for all

If a theory presents you with a convenient scapegoat you can blame for all our problems, you should think twice before trusting it. Generally, conspiracy theories are captivating because they present overly simple and straightforward answers to complex questions. They follow predictable formats and focus on a clear, identifiable ‘enemy’. During this crisis, we have seen such theories blaming Bill Gates for the outbreak of the coronavirus. 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 theories claims – with absolutely no evidence to support it - that Bill Gates is the creator of the coronavirus as a part of some nefarious scheme. This 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 do the same with 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 worldwide to help fund the development and universal deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus. 

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Even as the rate of infections in the EU drops, the coronavirus continues to pose a threat to people’s health and a resurgence of cases is a real possibility.

Every generation of Europeans has faced a big challenge or threat – our generation’s is COVID-19. What makes the coronavirus such a threat is how infectious it is. Anyone can get infected and have severe complications, especially the old and people with health issues or weak immune systems. 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 the spread and find solutions.

It is only because of the actions taken by the Member States and the EU, as well as the sacrifices people made, that the coronavirus has been contained – at least for now. We currently do not know if and when there will be a “second wave” of infections, but we have to be prepared for that possibility. What we do know is that the lockdown measures were effective at stopping the spread; other countries that delayed their response or only took half measures are now experiencing much higher rates of infections and fatalities as a result.

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

Digital technologies can protect and save lives and any coronavirus contact tracing apps will be voluntary, transparent, secure, work across borders and fully respect people's privacy. Voluntary coronavirus tracing and warning apps can play a key role in all phases of the crisis and in particular now that confinement measures are being lifted, complementing 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. The Commission has 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 many people are using them – which is why everyone must be able to trust and adopt 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 want to better understand the interplay between the spread of the virus and the impact of measures taken. Many mobile operators are interested in participating in this project that aims to cover the entire EU. The findings will be shared with all Member States, with cross-border interoperability ensuring all tracing apps can communicate with each other. 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.

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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 but do not experience symptoms, a facemask can protect others, especially in confined spaces like shops or public transport. However, facemasks that comply with enhanced medical standards are in short supply in many parts of Europe and are vital in protecting our healthcare workers, so we must ensure that people within these most high-risk areas have priority access to such masks. 

However we must not let the use of face masks give us a false sense of total security – they must be seen as 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 infection rather than prevent it–

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. It works hard to ensure proper waste management of masks and medical equipment . It is important to remember that the use of face masks should take into account the latest scientific evidence as well as your local situation, and that you should always follow the advice of your national health authority.

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Given the urgency of the current crisis, the EU is taking necessary steps to make sure a 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. 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 saves 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 emotions and fears, causing significant harm to public health. Unsubstantiated claims that vaccines are modifying DNA or are poisoning patients – presented with zero supporting evidence - 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.

The EU’s support for vaccinations and #VaccinesWork

Blog post: Vaccines: Everything you need to know!

Learn more about the EU’s Coronavirus vaccines strategy

Check out the European vaccination information portal

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

It would be a remarkable coincidence that different authoritarian governments with well-developed propaganda machines also are also those best equipped to respond to a major health crisis – if it were true.

The fact is that the European institutions and its partners are doing more for Europeans than anyone else of the world. EU institutions have not been given responsibility for public health matters but have tools like coordination capabilities and health and safety recommendations, which can be used to help. We are using every tool at our disposal to fight the coronavirus: – from keeping borders open for supplies, to offering the space for member states to coordinate and share experiences, to providing large amounts of financial, medical assistance, personnel and much more.

A big part of this is organising the economic response – this allows EU member states to focus on public health issues, while we get started working on the economic response. This includes setting up a €100 billion solidarity fund called SURE and €37 billion Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, providing financial support to fight the crisis in the short term. In addition, €1 billion will be redirected from the EU budget to guarantee loans for at least 100,000 European businesses, while, the EU works with member states to secure the necessary equipment to tackle the pandemic through tools like the joint procurement procedures and the European Support Instrument. It is important that Europe works together to emerge out of this crisis stronger and more united than ever before. 

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The temporary containment measures across Europe are based on scientific evidence and do not signal the end of democracy or European values.

Respecting social distancing and following containment procedures saves lives and is the best way to stem the spread of the coronavirus. These measures are based on the latest available scientific evidence and data available to decision makers in each Member State.

The European Union 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 and gradual lifting of containment measures as soon as it is safe to do so - all while paying special attention to the continued respect of EU values such as the rule of law and of 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.

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There is currently no known cure for the coronavirus

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 and when a breakthrough is made we will all know about it. Be wary of any treatment that has not yet been approved and widely distributed. If you would not trust it normally, do not trust it now!

Health advice should only be taken from reliable, trusted sources, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), or your medical practitioner. Think twice before sharing any information that you see on social media about treatments and be sure to gather and cross-check information on new developments from trusted sources.

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 as an alternative to vaccination strategies. In fact, even if these treatments prove to be effective, it will still be of utmost importance to for public health to promote disease prevention and to relieve the burden experienced by our healthcare systems.

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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 how this disease 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 evidence that the coronavirus was created by man either 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 animal to human. 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. we must understand that, 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, defeat this 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 take good decisions. It does so by trying to overwhelm you with conflicting information, to confuse and make you unsure what you believe. The consequences can be serious – it can threaten people’s safety, damage trust in governments and media, undermine our global influence and more. 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 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 EEAS 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 what colour you are or which passport you hold. In different parts of the world, people are trying to blame the disease on different groups – calling it the European virus, the Chinese virus, the American virus.

The fact is that this is a human virus. The coronavirus is spread 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.

 

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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.

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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 to tackle the coronavirus rests entirely with Member States – 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 fast 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 €122 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.

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There is enough food available in the EU during the crisis.

One of the benefits of the European Union is that we do not have to worry about flows of goods being cut off. Food security – its availability, affordability and quality – has been at the heart of the EU since its foundation. Europe’s agricultural and food sector is continuing to show resilience and strength throughout this crisis. Farmers and food producers are working hard to keep food available in shops and supermarkets across the EU, and the European Commission is collaborating closely at all stages of production to ensure that supply chains flow efficiently and without interruption via green lanes which allow fast priority border crossings. 

The EU has acted swiftly to tackle the inevitable agri-food issues caused by the crisis, using tools available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to stabilise the pressurised agricultural markets and recognising seasonal agriculture employees as key workers who must be allowed to continue in their jobs after appropriate health screening. Decisive emergency action, such as helping private operators pay for the storage cost of products in the dairy and meat sectors have been put in place to protect the industry and those hit hardest by the crisis. The CAP has been ensuring food security in Europe since the beginning of the 1960s, and continues to do so in these challenging times. 

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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 relatively few people are believed to have developed natural immunity after being infected. 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 – 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 virus, for example by following good hand and respiratory hygiene and by self-isolating.

Don’t be fooled by bots

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