Government warns about ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins has warned against ‘fake news’ and ‘misinformation’ on Covid, saying it risked extending transmission of the virus, and that risked keeping the country in level 2. This put freedoms and jobs and businesses at risk.

RNZ: Public warned as fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories threaten Covid-19 response

Fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories are threatening to derail the country’s Covid-19 response and impede progress to alert level 1.

The government has sounded a strong warning after revealing people linked to the Mt Roskill church cluster were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic – while a researcher is raising the alarm about far-right groups and fringe political leaders also entering the fray.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins fronted this afternoon’s Covid-19 briefing with a plea to “think twice before sharing information that can’t be verified”.

He said looking overseas, it was plain to see the coronavirus was “very, very real” and “very, very deadly”, with no vaccine – and while he wanted a co-operative approach, he did not rule out punitive measures for people who continue to deliberately spread lies.

It follows warnings that some church groups are facing a battle to deter the spread of false information among their communities.

Sociologist Paul Spoonley had his eye on tertiary institutions and groups with far-right views setting up on campuses who were “talking to those suggestible, who are keen to hear about alternative views”.

“They are certainly spreading misinformation about various aspects of the pandemic and who is behind it,” he said.

The other source of rumours that worried Spoonley was fringe political leaders.

I certainly don’t want the country and myself put at risk by bullshit peddlers.

So, should I not allow anyone to promote conspiracy ‘theories’ or false information or claims without evidence here on Covid?

Perhaps I have a responsibility to do something like this.

The freedom to promote different views, and to discuss and debate topical issues is important here.

But I need to draw a line and not allow the promotion of ignorant or deliberate misinformation or false or unsupported claims that could be damaging to our communities and country.

I probably won’t get too drastic, but I may do more to hold to account those who make dubious claims or promote obvious bullshit.

This means that suspect comments may be parked until I have time to deal with them.

So take this as a warning from me. Open discussion does not mean open slather to promoters of bullshit, or of claims not supported by credible evidence.

I really can’t be bothered with anti-social messaging here. I have to decide what is fake or false versus genuine discussion, but I will change my approach on this. I’d rather err towards responsibility here, which is on me rather than on commenters.

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52 Comments

  1. Stuff: Move to alert level 1 unlikely amid growth of ‘sub-clusters’

    For 100 days New Zealand appeared to have eliminated coronavirus, however, on August 11, multiple cases popped up in the community again, seemingly out of nowhere.

    Now, just as the country’s largest cluster, with tentacles stretching from the North Shore to Tokoroa, appears to be mostly contained, the growth of new “sub-clusters” is dashing hopes that life could go back to normal anytime soon.

    The latest outbreak began when four family members who did not have links to overseas travel tested positive for the virus on August 11.

    Although they were quickly moved from their home in South Auckland to Auckland’s Jet Park quarantine facility, during the following days more cases of coronavirus were confirmed among the relatives’ close contacts.

    However, it was later revealed that the virus had already spread through schools, workplaces and even on buses.

    The outbreak prompted the Government to put the Auckland region back in level 3 lockdown and move the rest of the country to level 2.

    A month on, with Auckland now at alert level 2.5, 173 cases of coronavirus, 80 of which are considered “active”, have been linked to what has come to be known as the Auckland August cluster.

    Some people connected to the cluster attended services and a wedding at the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church, leading to a “sub-cluster” forming among the congregation.

    After announcing Thursday’s new cases, Hipkins issued a stern warning to New Zealanders, saying the“repeated, deliberate, malicious” spread of misinformation was jeopardising a potential move to alert level 1.

    However, Baker said it was too soon to ease restrictions anyway.

    “I don’t think it’s possible to move to level 1 in these conditions. I just don’t think that would be acceptable.”

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/122729361/coronavirus-move-to-alert-level-1-unlikely-amid-growth-of-subclusters

    At least for Auckland is think Baker is correct. And the Government now seems committed to restricting the whole country due to the outbreak in Auckland.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  11th September 2020

      What exactly is this misinformation that seems so lethal we are not to be told what it is?

      Reply
      • As I understand it it is things like promoting Covid as being not as bad as the flu and not a threat to health and not lethal.

        Generalised like ‘died with Covid, not of Covid’ claims with no attempt to define or support with credible evidence.

        Reply
  2. David

     /  11th September 2020

    The elephant in the room is this is a group of people who,s lives revolve around worshipping something that probably doesnt exist, nobody has ever seen and requires some form of suspension of logic to follow. To say they are susceptible to misstruths and rumours is probably not a big leap.

    Reply
    • Kimbo

       /  11th September 2020

      Yeah, but as much as I disagree with much of their beliefs, words and actions

      …I still want the Greens to be free to propagate their ideology, and even go so far as to attempt to implement it through the liberal democratic process. 😉

      Reply
    • Jack

       /  11th September 2020

      David, yes – belief in God will always require some measure of suspending logic, right up until it’s too late.
      The actual issue here is that Christian adjacent fellowships do a lot of harm.
      Historically, Christians everywhere have applied tolerance to these groups. I think it’s time to say outright – that’s not what being a Christian is. A Christian follows no prophet except for Jesus Christ.
      The cults have had a hey day in NZ. It’s time that faux tolerance be tackled by the truth.
      A Christian has no need to prop up ‘faith’.

      There is counterfeit tolerance and then there is tolerance, a branch of love. We suffer too much counterfeit love in NZ

      Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  11th September 2020

    There are still a lot of unknowns about the virus and things that were officially promoted as known turned out to be false. Healthy scepticism is in order.

    Reply
    • I agree that scepticism can be healthy and is important in discussions on Covid, but that should be able to be differentiated from uninformed and evidence free assertions.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  11th September 2020

        Yes. So let’s identify the nonsense clearly.

        Reply
        • David

           /  11th September 2020

          Talked to my brother who is a Dr in the UK and he is in a near empty hospital with not a single Covid patient and his is the base hospital for a huge region. He did say flu deaths are 6 times those of Covid deaths now and they are pretty effective at treating Covid.
          I think we can safely say if you are in average health and under 65 covid is not a problem big enough to put any restrictions on any aspect of your life.

          Reply
          • Regardless of your claims the reality is that in New Zealand the Government has chosen a particular way of dealing with Covid. If there’s significant community transmission then we will have lockdowns. So telling people it doesn’t matter if they get Covid is not helpful to the whole country.

            Reply
            • Jack

               /  11th September 2020

              Healthy skepticism does not involve ‘telling people that it won’t matter if they get covid’.

              It’s right to obey authority. It’s wrong to not question.

              The moment government complains about misinformation, many people rightly presume they are the culprits.

            • FarmerPete

               /  11th September 2020

              You only need to watch Australian media to see what information NZ is not getting access to. Conspiracy theories will be quickly dealt with in an open society. The biggest risk is to free expression. The amount of restrictions placed on the population is unprecedented, as is the burden placed on some in the community. To even suggest you might arbitrarily decide what readers can see or think is risky business.
              The government has its own remedies without the media deciding they can assist by censoring opinion.
              Anyone interested in views on freedom of speech could visit https://jonathanturley.org where this topic is explored everyday. personally, if I thought censorship was present on any blog it would be dropped from my daily read.

            • David

               /  11th September 2020

              Not saying we should do the UK thing, we have got this far we might as well make every effort to keep it out until the vaccine is here in November/December to protect the vulnerable.
              I have absolutely zero fear of Covid, would rather not catch it any more than I would rather not catch the flu but lets stop pretending Covid is that bad for anyone under 65, its clearly not which is why young people and middle age people are ignoring official advice.

            • I worry that the PM and Chris Hipkins will find other excuses to keep the whole country in L2 despite the only community cases (apart from the early ones in Tokoroa) being in Auckland and there only being one today.

  4. NOEL

     /  11th September 2020

    Parents who dont send there kids to schools could see enforcement whilst the illegal church group that is the reason for the longer restrictions on Auckland wont be prosecuted after repeated breaches.
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12360873

    Reply
  5. John J Harrison

     /  11th September 2020

    Pete, dead right.
    But it now seems clear that due to mismanagement that it is now widespread throughout both Auckland and the Waikato.
    We must learn to mitigate it rather than the fanciful “ eliminate it.”

    Reply
    • Patzcuaro

       /  11th September 2020

      What evidence is there that it is wide spread in numbers? Even to say that it is geographically wide spread is a stretch as we have had cases in Auckland plus 3 in Tokoroa.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  11th September 2020

        Thats right there is no cases outside Auckland apart from a few in Tokoroa a few weeks back ( connected to the Auckland family who travelled to Rotorua and back)
        Its the usual [ ] spreading their deceit.

        Reply
    • duperez

       /  11th September 2020

      John J Harrison, what was the ‘mismanagement’?

      Reply
  6. lurcher1948

     /  11th September 2020

    Why is it allways the right with their heads in the sand,wait that favorite standby,Swedish herd immunity will be dragged out and that horrible little girl Cindy “dear leader”forcing people against their will…its communism they say from the right.

    Reply
    • Harry

       /  11th September 2020

      [Deleted. Stating things as facts with no supporting evidence does not make them facts. PG]

      Reply
    • duperez

       /  11th September 2020

      Don’t you believe Sweden is the model we should have followed? Should we have jumped on board the day they announced their strategy? Or waited a fortnight or a month and said. “These guys know what it’s all about, they know better than anyone in the world?”

      “Swedish model would be a disaster in Australia:
      Dr Nick Talley is editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia. He says the Swedish model has been a failure.”

      https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12364015
      🤔

      Reply
  7. David

     /  11th September 2020

    If you look at todays case fatality rate compared with 4 months ago its quite remarkable. Take Germany where it was 29% in over 80s and now its 11%, for 60 to 79 yr olds its gone from 9% to 2%. Strangely its almost exactly the same CFR that it is for flu which we happily live with.
    Not only is treatment far far better than it was by an exponential factor but you cant help but think the virus has become much less deadly as is the path for all viruses. You may be surprised to know that SARS is still floating around but has mutated to something so weak no one cares.
    Having said that the worst place to get an outbreak is South Auckland and one would have thought the Christian thing to do would be follow the rules to protect your flock.

    Reply
    • Patzcuaro

       /  11th September 2020

      It does appear that more people that get COVID-19 are having a better outcome. I think there are 2 influences at work, treatments have improved and the more vulnerable are being more cautious. The social active young who are less vulnerable are making up a larger percentage of the cases now.

      There was a peak in the US in early April and another higher peak in August in daily case numbers. When you look at hospitalizations, the August peak was the same as the April and deaths in the August peak were noticeably lower the in April.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  11th September 2020

        Yes, the disasters the Left were hoping to pin on Trump did not materialise. Where is their prophet with the long name now.

        Reply
        • duperez

           /  11th September 2020

          Gone the way of those here who were hoping to pin on our government disasters which did not materialise? They disappeared then reappeared proclaiming other disasters caused by the avoidance of the disasters they were not averse to welcoming.

          Reply
  8. David

     /  11th September 2020

    Just listened to a podcast by a cancer doctor in the UK where they are predicting between 30 and 50 thousand extra cancer deaths and he was saying the average age of death from Covid is 82 and life expectancy is 82.3.

    Reply
    • This sort of vague non-referenced or linked claim is something I want to strongly discourage here.

      It means nothing without giving a source for the podcast, and without the person who claims to be a doctor giving some substantiation to his claims, and with no indication when it was said.

      It wasn’t Prof Karol Sikora was it? He has apologised for things he has said.

      https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2020/06/coronavirus-doctor-apologises-for-saying-covid-19-patients-would-have-died-anyway.html

      Reply
      • David

         /  11th September 2020

        From the Office of National Statistics in England and its even more stark in Scotland where the average age of people dying of Covid is 85 and life expectancy in Scotland is 80 and that is from the National Records of Scotland.
        Turns out the Prof was correct and Piers Morgan was wrong, the UK re did its Covid death numbers and reduced them by around 5000. If you had a positive Covid test and died you got counted as a Covid death which they then switched to if you dies within 60 days of Covid test and now they are at 28 days. They were also double counting hence the re stating of cause of death and the lowering of the death toll.
        https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53722711

        Reply
      • Duker

         /  11th September 2020

        Sikora is not an expert on covid by any stretch of the imagination
        His specialty is radiation oncology about as far from as respiratory illnesses or epidemiology as you can get.
        Extra cancer deaths ? is he expert on computer modelling as well ? he has very narrow medical speciality.
        I know people who have missed specialist followups , but they are already in the low risk category, when extra caution just means they followed for a few years as the risk of invasive surgery is higher than the benefits ( cancer surgery is never a low risk option) and of course theres then oncology/radiation treatments which can be better than nothing for not a certain outcome

        Reply
        • David

           /  11th September 2020

          Sikora wasnt giving his expert opinion on Covid, nor did he calculate the excess cancer deaths himself but he gave context to both subjects with his expertise in oncology.
          Early detection is the best for a good outcome and if you cant get a biopsy then you are at higher risk if you are one of the 11% who have a biopsy that turns out to be cancerous. Pretty straightforward.
          He also pointed out that heart attacks in the UK have dropped by 50% this year and the only explanation is mild ones are not being picked up because there is a reluctance to overwhelm the NHS so dont get checked after chest paind, its storing up the likleyhood of someone have an undiagnosed problem that could lead to a big heart attack.
          None of it is controversial

          Reply
    • Tom Hunter

       /  11th September 2020

      In an article I wrote at No Minister way back in April – Visible vs Invisible Deaths – I referenced what may be the same cancer doctor:

      Richard Sullivan, a professor of cancer and global health at King’s College London, says: “The number of deaths due to the disruption of cancer services is likely to outweigh the number of deaths from the coronavirus itself over the next five years. Cancer screening services have stopped, which means we will miss our chance to catch many cancers when they are treatable and curable.”

      And he can hardly have been alone since the British government acknowledged the same thing:

      Matt Hancock, the health secretary, refuses to give a figure for the potential non-Covid fatalities from this catastrophe but the cabinet was told it could be up to 150,000 avoidable deaths.

      Reply
  9. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  11th September 2020

    Aren’t we fortunate that Siouxsie Wiles can tell us the difference between information, misinformation and disinformation?
    https://sciblogs.co.nz/infectious-thoughts/2020/09/08/now-lets-flatten-the-infodemic-curve/

    Tho’ I’m sure our PM told us to only trust information that comes from “the Podium”.
    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2020/08/coronavirus-jacinda-ardern-incredibly-angry-at-oversimplified-wrong-auckland-testing-message.html

    Reply
    • duperez

       /  11th September 2020

      We don’t believe ‘the Podium,’ we don’t believe Wiles, we believe ourselves.

      Everyone is an authority. For my authority to be more credible than yours (for example) the people I listen to and read have to more authoritative than those you listen to. I know they are. I just know that, I believe I’m right.

      So who do we listen to and act on? The authorities on blog sites? Those standing at podiums? If there are 20,000 accepted experts with differences of opinion small and large, whom do we believe?

      Should those at the podium say, “Too hard to decide what’s right, we’ll ignore all that, we’ll do nothing except what our gut tells us”?

      If those at the podium do what we think is right they are onto it 100%. If the actions they decide on and go ahead with are those we disagree with, then they are 100% wrong.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  11th September 2020

        The government means ‘official information’ from the podium. Like testing, quarantines, restrictions applying for different levels , that sort of thing. Even some are spreading lies about numbers that have died , suicides, travel restrictions and so on.

        Reply
  10. Tom Hunter

     /  11th September 2020

    And people should read the following article from the Human Events magazine, From AIDS to COVID: The Political Capture of America’s Public Health Establishment.

    It actually mentions none other than Dr Fauci, in an early misstep where he said it might be possible to catch AIDS from surfaces, which led to much public angst and fear for a while before he pulled the comment back, under heavy attack from collegues, and then blamed the media for not interpreting his scientific precision correctly. Seems he was learning the Washington game early on.

    But it was this that drew my attention:

    Randy Shilts’ searing book And the Band Played On (1987), which is widely considered the definitive history of the early years of the AIDS epidemic. One of the book’s central themes is the failure of the left-wing public health and political establishments to be honest about who was at risk for AIDS and how it was spread—because, at the time, telling the truth meant violating leftist political pieties. This failure occurred even though infection with the virus at the time meant almost certain death.

    COVID-19 and AIDS are very different diseases. Still, there are eerie echoes of the destructive political bias that contributed to our AIDS failures, both in public health policy and in the activist community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Today Shilts, who would later die of the disease he chronicled, is viewed as a hero; at the time, he was spat on in the street and called a traitor or sexual fascist by many others in the gay community.

    Like many skeptics of establishment policy on COVID-19 today, those who dissented from the “approved” views about AIDS were treated brutally by the public at large.

    The article goes on to detail exactly how that refusal to discuss the real risks and practical solutions meant many additional deaths occurred because:

    These activists wanted to be free of stigmatization of the rampantly promiscuous behavior that was ubiquitous in those communities at that time. Shilts writes that “people died while gay community leaders played politics with the disease, putting political dogma ahead of the preservation of human life.”

    And the similarities with today’s COVID-19 discussions (if they can even be called that at the moment, before threatened state crackdowns):

    Rather than forthrightly discussing the risks (which are significant for old and sick people, almost nonexistent for children, minor for those under 50), and adjusting behavioral recommendations and guidelines accordingly, health authorities have pushed for policies like elementary school lockdowns and mass quarantines of the healthy Americans, in the face of all reasonable evidence or any serious attempts to weigh costs and benefits.

    If it saves just one life…

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  11th September 2020

      Hindsight is a wonderful thing, Aids like covid wasnt understood well for a long time, more is known about covid in 6 months than aids in 6 years . What they suspected intially and know for certain now are completely different things.

      Reply
      • Tom Hunter

         /  11th September 2020

        You’re missing the point. Much of the AIDS stuff was not hindsight: people knew quite early on that it was a disease affecting gay men and they therefore also knew what measures could be taken – like closing the infamous SF bathhouses – to protect gay men and save lives.

        But those actions were not undertaken until several years had passed, specifically because of opposition from “leading” gays and gay organisations. Their argument was not scientific or medical but political and ideological: taking such actions would be to “stigmatise” and “victimise” a group already suffering from such things.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  11th September 2020

          SFO closed its bathhouses in Oct 1984 , very early on
          Your false claims are easily refuted in a 30 sec google search
          Thats when there was 40 new cases per month

          Like the rest of your diatribe is almost all nonsense.

          Reply
          • Tom Hunter

             /  11th September 2020

            Like the rest of your diatribe is almost all nonsense.

            The article refers to the 1984 closures of SF bathhouses while also pointing out that this came three and half years after the first AIDS cases were reported and more than two years after the evidence was in that a fatal disease was hitting gay men in particular:

            True, there had been previous orders for education about AIDS transmission to take place in bathhouses, but even these guidelines were not enforced. While the public health community refused to comment on why these were sites of high risk, many in the gay community insisted that the bathhouses were the appropriate places for AIDS education—an act that reminded one dissident gay activist Shilts features of “telling people to stay in a burning building so they can learn about fire safety.”

            Perhaps you should try reading rather than just googling.

            Reply
    • That life will have been bought at an appallingly high price.

      Reply

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