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Addressing misinformation undermining the fight against COVID-19 and our commitment to Keep Wales Safe.

First published:
18 December 2020
Last updated:

Introduction

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not only brought about a global health crisis but has been accompanied by a universal infodemic of misleading, unreliable and false information. This has hindered the efforts of scientists, health professionals and governments to communicate effectively about the virus, and as a result, is impacting the global effort to bring the pandemic under control.

It’s vital that we stop spread of misinformation that undermines our collective fight against the virus and our commitment to Keep Wales Safe, protect the NHS and ultimately, save lives.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

Misinformation, is false information, often started by someone who genuinely wants to understand a topic and cares about keeping other people safe and well. It is then shared by others who feel the same. Everyone believes they are sharing good information – but unfortunately, they are not. And depending on what is being shared, the misinformation can turn out to be quite harmful.

At the other end of the spectrum is disinformation. Unlike misinformation, this is false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm. That harm could be to a person, a group of people, an organization or even a country. Disinformation generally serves some agenda and can be dangerous. During this pandemic, we are seeing it used to try to erode our trust in each other and in our government and public institutions.

To minimise the amount of information we are exposed to from unreliable sources, we strongly advise you fact check before you forward any information to others. Only share from trusted sources such as:

Below we address misconceptions that are currently in circulation by stating the facts based on current scientific evidence.

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new disease that has already infected more than 100 million people and sadly has killed over 2.5 million people worldwide. It is highly infectious and spreads quickly amongst people of all ages, and we know it has a disproportionate impact on older people, poorer people and those in ethnic minority communities.

COVID-19 is a serious risk to public health and the actions that we have taken are proportionate to the risk that it poses to people in Wales and UK.

COVID-19 is defined by the World Health Organization as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – an extraordinary event that may constitute a public health risk to other countries through international spread of disease and may require an international coordinated response.

Can coronavirus affect people of all ages?

Yes. Although older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease are more at risk of becoming severely ill with the virus, young people can be badly affected by COVID-19 too.

Young people are less likely to be hospitalised or die from COVID-19, but they can catch and spread it, and some develop severe and lasting symptoms, commonly known as 'long Covid'. We are continuing to learn about the long-term impact of the virus on all age groups.

Prevention is important. People of all ages should follow the official guidance and take steps to protect themselves and others from the virus. This includes following good hand hygiene practice, sticking to social distancing measures, wearing face coverings, keeping rooms well ventilated and above all else, limiting the number of people with whom we come into contact. This is especially important with COVID-19 as you can be infectious and pass the virus on, even if you do not have symptoms.

Is coronavirus more deadly than seasonal flu?

Yes. A report published by The Office for National Statistics states that between January and August 2020, more than 3 times as many deaths were recorded in Wales and England where COVID-19 was the underlying cause compared to influenza and pneumonia.

Sadly, since the beginning of the pandemic, over 5,500 people have died in Wales due to COVID-19.

That’s one life lost every 90 minutes since March 2020.

Will a coronavirus test show a positive result if I only have a cold or flu?

No. The COVID-19 test has been developed to detect COVID-19 only.

The swab (PCR, antigen) test and the lateral flow device tests (LFD) for COVID-19 has been specifically developed to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as COVID-19 – and has a proven accuracy rate of 99.91%. A cold or the flu won't cause positive tests for COVID-19, even though for some people, symptoms can be similar.

Lateral flow test (LFTs)  are now being used to identify people with COVID-19 who are not showing symptoms. Around 1 in 3 individuals with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. If left undetected they will continue to spread the virus.

Testing those without symptoms is an important tool in the fight against coronavirus. Each positive case identified can help prevent many more infections.

LFTs are easy to use and give results in 30 minutes. They are easy to interpret and can be used in a wide range of settings.

Does wearing face masks protect you and others from infection?

The scientific consensus and World Health Organization advice is that wearing a face covering helps to protect those around you from fine droplets and aerosols in the air which spread the virus, particularly in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Face coverings became mandatory in indoor public places across Wales in September 2020.

Wearing face coverings is one way to suppress transmission of the virus in conjunction with other measures such as social distancing, washing hands regularly, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings and good ventilation.

Here are the main ways you can get infected:

  • Close-range direct person-to-person transmission when someone is directly exposed to respiratory droplets and aerosols emitted by another person at less than 2 metres. These virus carrying particles can lead to virus entering the body through eyes, nasal membranes, oral mucosa, or the respiratory system via inhalation or deposition. 
  • Indirect surface contact transmission happens when someone touches a surface that has been contaminated with the virus. They may then become infected when they touch their nose, eyes or mouth with a contaminated hand or object (fomite). Surfaces can be contaminated through the deposition of respiratory droplets and by people who are infectious touching surfaces with their hands.
  • Airborne transmission occurs when small virus-containing respiratory aerosols are carried by the air and subsequently inhaled. These aerosols may be released from respiratory actions (breathing, talking, coughing etc.), as well as through aerosol generating procedures in a hospital or dental environment. Airborne transmission is associated with infection beyond 2 metres in poorly ventilated rooms.

Whilst wearing a face covering can be uncomfortable, it is not harmful if you are fit and well. It does not lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood nor low oxygen levels.

Children under 11, and people with medical grounds for not wearing a face covering are exempt. Further guidance including how to make your own face covering is also available.

The Technical Advisory Group has published updated advice on face coverings.

Can the Welsh Government justify the interventions they have taken and restrictions they have imposed?

Yes. Before any decision is made by the First Minister and his colleagues, the Welsh Government draws on advice provided by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Chief Medical Officer. It has also established its own panel of experts, the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), providing expert advice to help manage COVID-19, including:

  • weekly summaries of advice
  • surveillance data (including the R value)
  • reports about specific issues

The Welsh Government also takes into consideration data and evidence provided by the Office of National Statistics and Public Health Wales.

The restrictions that have been put in place are designed to save lives and protect the economy where possible, while doing all we can to support people’s mental well-being.

All interventions are considered both in terms of the benefits (e.g. reduction in direct harm from COVID-19) and disbenefits (e.g. economic harm, loneliness and isolation).

We continue to review the evidence and consider both the direct and indirect harms in view of our situation in Wales and publish the scientific evidence behind our decisions.

Do national protective measures work?

Yes, there is clear evidence that introducing protective measures brings down the reproduction number (the “R number”), which is the rate at which COVID-19 is transmitted in the community.

The national restrictions that have been imposed such as ‘requiring people to stay home, stop mixing with those outside their household, as well as the recommended protective measures - which include regular hand washing, wearing face coverings in enclosed areas, and keeping their home well ventilated - have contributed to reducing the transmission of the virus, reducing the number of hospitalisations and Covid-related deaths. 

Decisions made by the Welsh Government to introduce restrictions are aimed at bringing the R number down and are based on scientific evidence and are under constant review.

We know from the fall in the R rate as a result of the protective measures, introduced in March 2020 and in December, that they are effective at slowing down the spread of COVID-19, reducing pressure on our NHS and ultimately, saving lives.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) provides scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies. Information provided by SAGE show that the R number has reduced in Wales since the restrictions introduced in December began to have an effect.

Even after receiving a vaccine, we might still become infected ourselves, and can still transmit the virus. It is important to continue to use protective behaviours and to be aware of the risk so that we avoid spreading the virus to others.

See our coronavirus control plan that describes changes to alert levels taking account of vaccination and the dominant Kent strain.

Will avoiding a test keep official numbers down and therefore stop new restrictions coming into force?

No. This will not prevent measures being introduced to stop the spread of the virus. The number of tests and positive cases are used to measure the scale of an outbreak in a certain area. A lack of testing might lead to an extended pandemic.

If I have mild symptoms, can I self-isolate and not take a test?

No. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, (a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss or change of taste or smell), however mild, you must self-isolate at home for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started and arrange to have a test to see if you have the virus. You should call 119 for a test, book online or via the NHS COVID-19 app.

Testing can help confirm or not whether you have been infected with the virus (SARS-CoV-2) - regardless if you have symptoms – and whether you are at risk of spreading the infection to others. Taking measures to prevent the spread of infection is the most effective way to keep others safe such as self-isolating.

It is important to get tested for us to understand how widely the virus has spread in a community. Having a full picture allows us to plan for an increase in demand on our health service and inform our decisions on introducing further measures. It also means people who have been in close contact with you, if you are infectious, take the necessary steps to stop further transmission of the virus.

If you’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Wales Test, Trace Protect or the NHS COVID-19 app and cannot work from home and will lose earnings, you can apply for a discretionary payment from your local authority known through the Self-isolation support scheme. You can also apply if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

About 1 in 3 people with coronavirus do not have symptoms but can still infect others.

Getting tested regularly is the only way to know if you have the virus. If people test positive and self-isolate, it helps stop the virus spreading.

The rapid lateral flow tests are only suitable for people who do not have coronavirus symptoms.

You can get regular test kits if you cannot work from home and are not part of a regular testing scheme through your employer. You can get testing kits for yourself and your household.

Find out more about how COVID-19 lateral flow tests work and their role in our testing programme.

Why should I get the vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccination is one of our most important tools to help reduce the spread of the virus. The vaccines are safe and effective and offer individual protection from COVID-19. It will also offer greater protection for our loved ones and communities.

There are 3 COVID-19 vaccines currently available, Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna.

Vaccinating the population and encouraging uptake will:

  • protect people from COVID-19 including those who are most vulnerable
  • enable us to lift restrictions in due course
  • help us to return to a more normal life

Getting vaccinated is not mandatory and we understand that people will want information on safety. We ask that people educate themselves with factual and reliable information before coming to a decision.

Read the latest information on COVID-19 vaccination on Public Health Wales.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine make you ill?

Some people have experienced some mild, short-term side effects after receiving the vaccine. Common reported side-effects include mostly “flu-like” symptoms such as a headache, aching, fever, as well as pain and tenderness at the injection site. There is no scientific evidence that the vaccine causes long-term effects on the body.

The vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19; you cannot catch COVID-19 from receiving the vaccine.

Getting vaccinated and following protective measures will protect you and your loved ones from becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus.

What ingredients are in the vaccines?

COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Despite some misleading information in circulation about ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccines do not contain any human or animal derived ingredients.

You can find out more details here:

Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, AstraZeneca vaccine and Moderna vaccine.

Once I have had the COVID-19 vaccine, can I go back to the normal life I had before the pandemic?

The impact of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will offer individual protection as well as greater protection for our loved ones and communities. In time it could mean that restrictions are eased and we can move further towards a return to more normal day-to-day life. As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled-out, it will take a while to reach everyone. We aim to offer the vaccine to all eligible adults by 31 July 2021.

Being vaccinated doesn’t mean you are fully protected. Even if you are vaccinated, you may still be able to transmit the virus to others in the community, so should continue to follow the protective measures to protect yourself and those around you.

Are the new variants of the virus more infectious than the original strain?

A number of new variant strains of concern have emerged in recent months including one from South Africa, another from Kent and the Brazil variant.

There is scientific evidence that these variants tend to spread faster and are more transmissible than the original strain of COVID-19 and we are tracking these closely.

With the emergence of new strains, it is more important than ever that we follow the basic rules to keep us all safe. This means:

  • keeping our distance from others
  • washing our hands regularly
  • wearing a face covering when we’re in indoor public spaces
  • ensuring good ventilation indoors
  • staying at home as soon as we have symptoms, and
  • arranging to get a test.

How are schools allowed to reopen if children can spread the virus?

A decline in cases in most regions of Wales means that there is sufficient headroom to enable a phased return of our learners to schools. We prioritised our youngest learners initially because of the evidence on transmission in younger children, and because we know they find it difficult to learn remotely.

It is important to monitor trends in the coming weeks as children return to the classroom and students to campus. It’s also important to note that various protective measures are in place in schools and school transport to minimise the risk of infection.

If I have already had COVID-19, can I catch it again?

We know that some people who have recovered from COVID-19 can be re-infected.

A recent study sponsored by Public Health England of more than 20,000 health care workers concluded that the majority of people who catch and recover from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for several months afterwards.

Repeat infections are unusual but research suggests that people who become re-infected can carry high levels of the virus in their nose and throat, even when they do not show symptoms. This means there is a high risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Even if you have had COVID-19 and recovered, it is important to follow protective measures to reduce the chance of spreading it to others.