Busting fake news. Know your facts!
09 April 2020

As the world tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to be faced with fake news. William Murray unwraps some of the false advice that is going around in this public service update for

With all of the information being shared about how to best combat the coronavirus, it is sometimes difficult to know what can be trusted. This is especially concerning at present as people are under a lot of strain and may want to believe tales of 'quick fixes' and panaceas. Although misinformation is not necessarily being spread maliciously, there continues to be a flurry of fake advice - this is at best, unhelpful; and at worst, outright dangerous. In order to combat some of this information, it's important to know what we can trust, and must all respectfully shut down information we know to be wrong. 

Here are three significant points of disinformation that have been making the rounds:

Claim: Drinking alcohol can prevent the coronavirus

Reality: Not only is this objectively wrong but it is also a very dangerous claim

Although false, this claim continues to be spread, which isn't helped by the fact that it was jokingly touted by the Serbian President last month [1]. Alcohol lowers the body's immune system, and thus, hampers its ability to fight off the virus. Indirectly, intoxication through alcohol also lowers people's inhibitions, which can easily lead to less care being taken to over proper protective measures [2]. This mistruth is now being blamed for the death of as many as 600 Iranian citizens (with thousands more hospitalised) following their consumption of pure alcohol in an attempt to destroy the virus [3]. Whilst high-proof alcohol can be used to sanitise hands and surfaces, it should not be consumed to combat the virus.

Claim: Once you catch the coronavirus, you have it for life

Reality: This is not true - most people that contract the virus will recover [4]

Such concerns are dangerous on a number of levels. Firstly, whilst people must be careful regarding the spread of the virus, such information is likely to heighten stress in a way that is counterproductive. Secondly, the idea that someone contracts the virus for life can create a culture of stigmatisation and lead to the rejection of those that have come into contact with it. Whilst we must be very careful and limit contact as much as possible - especially for those showing virus symptoms - this is not a time to create negative societal dividing lines between those that have had the virus and those that haven't.

Claim: The ability to hold your breath for over 10 seconds means that you do not have the coronavirus

Reality: This is not the case.

Whilst people with coronavirus may experience respiratory problems, holding one's breath for an arbitrary amount of time is not a valid test for having it. This 'self-test' was falsely purported to come from Stanford University but has been completely dismissed [4]. Belief in a completely baseless test can lull people that may have minor symptoms into a false sense of security, making it more likely for them to spread the virus further.

The World Health Organization has created a 'Coronavirus Mythbusters' page, on which is has included these and a number of other pieces of unhelpful, false information to look out for [5].

If you are hearing of new pieces of false or unhelpful information that you think people should know about, do let us know on twitter #knowthefacts

Source: William Murray, LINKS Europe Project Officer and Coordinator, for


Featured references:

[1] RFERL - 'No Joke! Serbian President Makes Light Of Coronavirus As One More Reason To Hit The Bottle':

[2] USA Today - 'Fact check: To minimize coronavirus risk, use alcohol for sanitizing, not for drinking':

[3] The New York Post - 'Hundreds dead in Iran after drinking pure alcohol as coronavirus 'cure':

[4] Stanford University Twitter:

[5] World Health Organization - 'Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters':

Photo credit: Lewis Ogden