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Coronavirus: An overview of the Main Disinformation Narratives in the Czech Republic

In connection with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, a lot of disinformation, fabrication, and manipulation has appeared in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe and the world, aiming to take advantage of the situation in order to serve the interests of various actors. Below is an overview of the most important disinformation narratives connected to the pandemic, appearing on quasi-media websites and disseminated via social media in the Czech Republic. The overview was compiled by the Centre against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats of the Ministry of the Interior, which monitors disinformation occurring in the Czech information environment and pertaining to internal security. Although normally the Centre only focuses on internal security, it has expanded its scope following a decision by the minister of the interior for the purpose of detecting and responding to the full array of disinformation narratives concerning the pandemic. 

1. THE EU IS USELESS

CLAIM: The EU is incapable of handling the crisis efficiently, and is therefore useless; the EU does more harm than good in the current crisis (allegedly supporting migration, attempting to prevent receiving Russian aid etc.).

FACTS: Healthcare and internal security are areas where the EU has limited competencies, as both fall almost exclusively within the remit of EU Member States. The EU is very active in handling those areas of the crisis where it has the power to do so: it created a rescue fund from which the Czech Republic can use approx. CZK 30 billion to assist small and medium businesses, stabilise the healthcare system and support the labour market. Significant sums from the EU budget have been assigned to the development of a drug to cure the coronavirus, and the EU has pledged to facilitate and accelerate the approval process as much as possible. The EU announced its ambition to conduct joint purchases of protective equipment. It co-finances the return of Czech and other citizens from abroad, organising flights to destinations no longer served by commercial carriers. It continues to come up with new proposals, such as the one to provide special lanes for the swift processing of trucks at EU border crossings, allowing for the rapid supply of necessary goods like food or materials needed to manufacture protective equipment. The EU continues to be actively involved in responding to the pandemic.

For an up-to-date overview of EU activities in response to the coronavirus, please visit the European Commission’s website.  

2. THE CORONAVIRUS AND MIGRATION

CLAIM: The government and public broadcasters are overwhelming the public with information about the coronavirus, thereby intending to draw attention away from the real threat, which is migration. Migration is an organised “invasion” supported by NGOs, a targeted attempt at Islamising Europe. The consequences of the pandemic are intended to help build an infrastructure for the “planned” influx of migrants.

FACTS: The conspiratorial but unsubstantiated claim about the organised effort of supranational “elites”, the EU, the UN, NGOs and Czech political leaders to import (Muslim) migrants into Europe, including the Czech Republic, has been appearing on various quasi-media for several years. In the context of the situation on the border between Greece and North Macedonia, the claim has recently been extended to include references to the pandemic. The Czech Republic has a long-term, well-defined and thoroughly applied migration policy, which includes the fight against illegal migration as well as the mitigation of possible threats arising from this phenomenon. In addition to joining the EU’s support for Greece, the Czech Republic is responding to the current situation on the Greek-Turkish border by sending police officers to help guard it. The Czech Republic consistently defends its opposition to the so-called relocation of migrants (quotas) defined by the resolution of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and the Government of the Czech Republic. Quasi-media websites have not provided any evidence to support their claim that the government is using the pandemic as a distraction.

For an up-to-date overview of the Czech Republic’s measures pertaining to migration, please visit the Ministry of the Interior’s website.

3. THE VIRUS WAS DEVELOPED AS A BIOLOGICAL WEAPON

CLAIM: The virus was developed as a biological weapon (by the USA/UK/China/global elites such as Bill Gates etc.) to destroy humanity, bring about the collapse of the financial system, help establish world domination, garner profits from the sale of vaccines etc.

FACTS: Disinformation often treats geopolitical issues and it is no different with regards to the coronavirus. According to currently available information agreed upon by several leading research institutions and laboratories, the virus was not created artificially or developed in a laboratory. The natural spread of the virus has led to a mutation of its genetic information, which is a gradual and naturally occurring process. Because current information does not support the claim that the virus is artificial, it is unwise to speculate about its development by one power or another for the purpose of achieving political or geopolitical goals.

For more information regarding the nature of the virus, we recommend you follow the latest news on the World Health Organisation’s website.

4. ALTERNATIVE TREATMENT/PREVENTION

CLAIM: The consumption of alcohol or garlic, smoking cigarettes, drinking hot water, washing with chlorine, using nasal drops, antibiotics, colloidal gold etc. will protect against the coronavirus. Taking ibuprofen or drugs containing ibuprofen will make the symptoms worse. Wearing protective equipment (masks etc.) is ineffective.

FACTS: The consumption of alcohol or garlic, smoking cigarettes, drinking hot water, washing with chlorine, taking nasal drops or antibiotics is not effective in battling the coronavirus. These and other such “health tips” are debunked by the Ministry of Health on a website set up specifically to inform the public about the coronavirus. According to the State Institute for Drug Control, a doctor or pharmacist may recommend various treatment options to relive the symptoms (e.g. fever) that accompany COVID-19. These may include anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Using ibuprofen in accordance with the package insert is a safe and effective way of treating fever and pain. There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that ibuprofen exacerbates the symptoms of COVID-19.

The existence of a drug effectively curing the coronavirus has not yet been confirmed, but intensive work is being done towards its development and towards testing the positive effects of existing drugs. As regards Remdesivir, the State Institute for Drug Control issued a positive opinion regarding its use against COVID-19. Remdesivir is intended for critically ill patients and its use is considered on a case-by-case basis.

For more information about the coronavirus, its treatment and prevention, please follow trusted and verified sources, such as the Ministry of Health, and follow the advice of medical professionals.

5. OTHER COUNTRIES ARE SEIZING THE CZECH REPUBLIC’S PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

CLAIM: Germany (and other countries) are maliciously seizing vital supplies of medical equipment bought by the Czech Republic, to the detriment of Czech healthcare providers. The government and mainstream media are intentionally withholding information about this from the public.

FACTS: Some European countries, including Germany, but also the Czech Republic, have banned the export of medical equipment as of 4 March 2020. Due to this ban, as well as to the general shortage of medical equipment and varying channels of purchase and distribution, the situation regarding the delivery of these goods is not always clear. This state of things is often abused for the purpose of fabricating claims or manipulating facts in order to sew panic and exacerbate anti-European or anti-German sentiments. It has transpired that those situations that have been the subject of media attention (such as the detention of Czech supplies by Germany and Hungary and the detention of supplies from China to Italy by the Czech Republic) were not intentional and were resolved thanks to the transnational cooperation of relevant authorities.

For more information about the import and export of medical equipment please visit the Customs Administration’s website.

6. CITIES IN QUARANTINE

CLAIM: Exaggerated demonisation of ongoing security measures, which has the potential to sew panic (through the use of terms such as “contentration camps” and “martial law” and calls for lynching those breaching quarantine measures), speculation on the lock-down of certain areas (e.g. Prague) etc. These are usually variations on one narrative, through which the authors seek to create the impression of providing credible information by referring to a “solid” source from inside the security community.

FACTS: Hoaxes about the closure of certain areas/cities appear repeatedly for the most part on social media, in the Czech Republic but also in Slovakia. Claims concerning the lock-down of Prague were debunked by the minister of the interior, the prime minister and the mayor of Prague. Other examples of manipulative claims about the conditions allegedly prevailing in locked-down areas can be found on social media and quasi-media websites, as well as criticisms of existing or planned measures (such as the so-called Smart Quarantine). These are described as totalitarian and self-serving and seek to undermine the constitutional principles of the Czech Republic as a democratic state governed by rule of law. The lock-down of selected municipalities in the Olomouc region has already ended, in accordance with an evaluation carried out by the corresponding hygiene station.

For more information on measures adopted in connection with the pandemic, please visit the Office of the Government’s website.

7. THE GOVERNMENT IS PREPARING FOR A FORCED MASS MALIGN VACCINATION

CLAIM: The government is preparing a forced mass vaccination as a means to control the population. The vaccine will contain toxic substances or nanochips, which will be introduced into the body and enable the electronic surveillance of the population.

FACTS: Conspiracy theories about a forced or mass vaccination following the coronavirus pandemic are very often linked to disinformation narratives about the “secret plan of the elites to use vaccinations as a means of establishing totalitarian world domination”. They feed the irrational belief of some people that vaccinations are not only ineffective, but actually harmful. Such (dis)information is nonsensical and only serves to provoke fear, distrust and panic.

For more information on the effects of vaccines, we recommend you follow trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation’s website.

8. THE PANDEMIC IS A BLUFF, THE SITUATION IS NOT SERIOUS

CLAIM: The pandemic has been fabricated to cause panic and control the population through fear, to cover up other problems, to create a totalitarian society etc. The pandemic is not serious and there is no need to take counter-measures. The effects on the economy will do more damage than the coronavirus itself.

FACTS: The situation in countries with a high number of infected persons is a significant argument against underestimating the coronavirus. The comparison with other illnesses is irrelevant, as the coronavirus has a longer incubation period than, for instance, the flu, thus increasing the probability of human-to-human transmission while the infected person is still unaware of having contracted the illness, which further speeds up its dissemination. The timely implementation of appropriate measures is therefore essential. Although some consider the damages caused by these measures to the economy to be much more serious than those caused by an uncontrolled spread of the virus to the healthcare system, such a state would undoubtedly also bring about significant economic losses and a serious social impact.

For more information on the consequences of the pandemic, we recommend you follow trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation’s website. 

9. THE CORONAVIRUS AND 5G

CLAIM: Speculations that there is a link between the coronavirus and the introduction of 5G networks, which are believed to be the cause of COVID-19 (similarly to earlier claims about 5G networks causing cancer).

FACTS: There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that there is a link between the introduction of 5G networks and COVID-19. The two areas are entirely unrelated. In spite of the fact that the coronavirus is relatively new and research is still underway to find a cure and a vaccine, current scientific knowledge suggests that it is the result of a natural mutation. 5G networks have never had any effect on the mutation, as they are simply a newer version of currently widespread mobile technologies, enabling faster data transfers.

For more information about the coronavirus, we recommend you follow trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation’s website.

10. THE USA IS USING THE CRISIS FOR MILITARY PURPOSES

CLAIM:  The USA is using the pandemic to secretly deploy troops throughout Europe in preparation for military operations, the occupation of Europe etc.

FACTS: In some cases, the disinformation mentioned above stem from the NATO military exercise NATO Defender-Europe 20, which was supposed to take place in Europe in the spring of 2020 and which required the transfer of hundreds of US military vehicles and thousands of US military troops to Europe. However, due to the pandemic, the transfer was cancelled and those military units that were already in Europe were transferred back to the USA.

For more information on NATO activities, please see NATO’s website. 

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