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Fake news creates serious problems in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, says Canada’s chief public health doctor

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Mia Rabson, the Canadian press

Published Tuesday, October 20, 2020 3:47 PM EDT

Last updated on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 11:51 p.m. EDT

OTTAWA – Canada’s Chief Public Health Doctor is concerned about the amount of false information being spread about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says that if false information is shared – be it intentionally or not – it does not help public health officials ensure that the public has the information they need to make the right decisions.

“When I think about the unprecedented pandemic that we have, I also think that the pandemic has emerged in the age of social media and information is being disseminated faster than the virus itself in many different ways,” Tam told one of her on Tuesday regular press conferences on Parliament Hill.

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible for the information they shared by first checking it against multiple and official sources.

“When you look at information, you ask a series of questions, including the exact source of that information,” said Tam. “Be sure to ask yourself this question before you pass the information on to someone else.”

Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that they respond frequently to inquiries fake News. Some of it originates in other countries and is taken up here, sometimes it is Canada-specific.

Trudeau said some of these come from “foreign actors trying to destroy successful democracies, others are people with extremist agendas in our countries trying to weaken people’s trust in our institutions and our democracy”.

In many cases, it has real effects. A poll by health officials in Quebec in August found that about a quarter of people in that province believed COVID-19 was deliberately created in a laboratory, and a third believed the government was hiding things about the pandemic.

Other polls found that people who believed conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus were less likely to follow public health advice on wearing masks, keeping physically distant, and restricting contacts.

Trudeau said he was recently asked about “COVID detention centers” by a student on a forum.

“I had to explain that as we consume ever greater amounts and various sources of information online and around us, we must continue to be careful about the sources, we must continue to be careful about comparing different reports and looking for trustworthy sources like Dr. Tam like the regional health authorities to tell the truth, “Trudeau said. “We have to stick together and resist people who would sow chaos in our communities (and) our democracy.”

The detention camp allegation came recently after Health Canada made an online request for information to find a company that might be able to manage the government’s quarantine sites.

Health Canada has managed 11 quarantine sites in nine cities for overseas travelers who do not have suitable quarantine spots, e.g. for two weeks.

The department may now be looking for a third party to manage quarantine sites.

Cole Davidson, spokesman for Health Secretary Patty Hajdu, said claims that quarantine sites are Canadian detention centers for people with COVID-19 are completely false.

“These emails and social media posts about ‘isolation camps’ are an example of false information being used to play with fears about a public health problem,” Davidson said. “Disinformation like this is supposed to deceive Canadians and create fear and confusion.”

Another claim floating around right now is that the federal government is inventing the pandemic to generate public support for both a universal guaranteed income and to relieve all household and consumer debt in Canada.

A spokesman for Trudeau said the claim had no basis in reality.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 20, 2020.

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