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“Infected Masks” WhatsApp Message, a Mixed Bag of Conjecture, Misplaced Truth & Outright Lies

4 mins read UPDATED: Previous post had a typo- “mis-bag”.

Photo Credit: Morocco World News 4 mins read
  • China supplied 2 million masks to Africa;
  • WHO says Africa must (should) prepare for the worst;
  • China plans to distribute “infected” masks.

While parts of the chain message are true, the author distorted the context. Findings show that in total, over 6 million masks have been shipped to several countries in Africa. And while there are reports of some returned medical-masks, it was because they were defective, not infected. Further, the author took out of context, the WHO Director-General, Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ cautionary message; although factual, his advisory was not to bolster the need to reject “infected shipped masks” from China. He instead, implored the health care systems in African countries against the imminent pandemic. 

 Full text:

According to WHO, COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The condition which is akin to SARS-CoV1 virus has killed many people all over the world, including China- ground zero, November 2019.

Interestingly, China is one of the technologically advanced countries in the world, and also among the renowned producers, users and suppliers of surgical masks. Recall, the WHO already recommended use of masks among the protective measures to be taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. We guess that this could be the reason social media posts, in recent time, got an influx of both factual and malicious reports on China and masks.

Verification

Did China supply 2 million masks for Africans?

Following and before the declaration of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the WHO recommended medical masks for health practitioners. These mask usually made of fibre, fabrics or gauze are one of the protective equipment to avoid spreading of coronavirus to others. The WHO, among other things, also urged doctors and other caregivers handling COVID-19 patients to wear medical masks with other protective kits, like hand gloves, gowns, etc. 

Further, reports show that any country, state or individual using approved guidelines can manufacture these masks. Not to mention, the claim that China supplies or have supplied 2 million medical-masks to Africa is not clear as the continent has 54 countries. Also, the report did not state its source(s) or at least name any of the nations that received said masks. This omission calls the report’s integrity to account; for it is necessary, considering that all the countries in Africa now have confirmed COVID-19 cases. More so, some including Nigeria had equally banned travel to China, amongst other risk countries. 

Similarly, the report was not clear on who supplied the mask; whether it was the Chinese government, NGOs or individuals from China? 

Nevertheless, available records show that  Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma has supplied 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million masks, and 60,000 protective suits and face shields to 54 African countries. Also, the Chinese government’s official website says that the country has offered aid to countries in Africa and others like Ukraine.

Be prepared!

Yes, on March 18, 2020, the WHO Director-General, Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Africa should prepare for the worst as the coronavirus begins to spread locally. Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian (East Africa,) reportedly said, “I think Africa should wake up. My continent should wake up,” He was reacting to spread of coronavirus all over the continent as South Africa that day had 116 cases. Similarly, South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, described the outcome as explosive”; as fourteen of the cases reported that day were from local transmission out of which six patients were children under ten years. New York Times and Aljazeera also published the said report.

Defective masks not “infected” masks

Premium Times reported that countries like the Netherlands rejected or recalled face masks imported from China for discovering that they were substandard (the manufacturers did not adequately cover their defective filters). Spain, Turkey, Australia and others equally rejected and banned protective kits for various reasons; not that they were “infectious”. New York Times has similar reports of how some companies in China and the US started churning out substandard COVID-19 protective kits and vaccines. 

But, the Chinese government, through its official website, claimed the government was supplying quality COVID19 kits to the globe. However, the government later placed a ban on unauthorised exports of coronavirus kits; as some of these masks were not for medical use. In truth, the WHO already intimated the terrible implications that abound from improper use of these medical masks.

Conclusion

This WhatsApp chain message is a textbook case of information misappropriation- an instance of stretched-out truths, inferences and outright lies. In reality, this is the sort of format, falsehoods have assumed in this period.

So to recap: The WHO Director-General entreated healthcare systems in the Global South regarding the pandemic; China shipped some COVID-19 kits, also noting some to be substandard; both unrelated incidents. Yet, through imagination and malicious intent, the author managed to juxtapose both occurrences into one sensational circular. And, what was the binding agent? A lie!

This account, emphasises the need to verify a message before sharing; this is especially true for chain messages with a variety of claims- the chances are that the author intermingled a lie with truths placed out of context. So, when you see such, ensure to send us these claims, and we’ll do our best to set the record straight.

Okechukwu Onuegbu, an associate to Dubawa, is also the publisher of the factcheckng.com site.

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