covid myths & politics

This year’s election campaign in New Zealand has attracted a number of “fringe” parties, at least some of whose supporters seem to have a fairly tenuous hold on reality and a highly flexible approach to the truth. I mean, how else could one describe some of those affiliated with the NZPP/Advance coalition, whose members & supporters regularly share myths about covid-19 (and vaccines, and 5G, and more besides)? (Fortunately, social media seem to react fairly quickly these days in terms of taking down such content once it’s reported.)

A non-exhaustive compilation of these myths about covid-19 includes:

  • a meme that spread rapidly last week, before FB & twitter caught up with it, claiming that the nasal swabs used in covid-19 testing penetrate the blood-brain barrier. In practice this simply cannot happen, because the brain is enclosed by the bones of the skull – you’d need more than a nasal swab to punch through that, and that’s not including the muscles and other tissues between the space at the back of your throat (the nasopharyngeal cavity) and the cranium. There’s a good debunking of the claim here.
  • the claim that families in Australia are offered money if they state that a family member’s cause of death was covid-19 (there’s more like this on the hyperlinked thread).

I’m pretty sure that families don’t get to approve the cause of death on the death certificate. Or that they’re being offered cash to do so. This one seems to have been imported holus-bolus from the US, where related claims been doing the rounds for a while.

Apparently coroners are in the act as well… (I did google <coroners + WHO>, as suggested, but – how strange! – found nothing to support Maroon’s claim.

  • a meme stating that the test being used doesn’t test for covid-19 anyway. This is just so very wrong. As Siouxsie Wiles explains here, the test we use is a highly-specifc test that uses PCR (polymerase-chain-reaction) to detect RNA sequences specific to the virus.

This doesn’t stop Maroon (and many others on social media) from sharing the following claim (NB Maroon subsequently deleted this one from the thread, after getting a lot of pushback on it):

Clearly she’s not into fact-checking (and nor are any of the others flinging memes around like hippopotamus poo). The statement was very definitely not made by Kay Mullis – but by John Lauritsen, writing about HIV/AIDS back in 1996. There’s further commentary on this one at this link.

There’s so much more of this, and alas, it’s quite widespread. And this is a problem – one that’s set out carefully and with nuance in this excellent post by Tina Ngata. Read it carefully, and please don’t share nonsense like the memes I’ve mentioned here. Better, push back against them when you see them. Please.


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