Pamphlet containing COVID-19 misinformation reportedly dropped in Melbourne letterbox

Pamphlet containing COVID-19 misinformation reportedly dropped in Melbourne letterbox

Amid the COVID-19 infodemic online, a double-sided pamphlet containing a raft of coronavirus misinformation has been dropped in Melbourne letterboxes.

COVID-19 conspiracies are moving offline, with a printed flyer containing false and inaccurate coronavirus claims appearing in Melbourne mailboxes.

The flyer, titled "CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 TRUTHFUL INFORMATION", calls for restrictions and emergency laws to be lifted, pointing to Australia's low COVID-19 death rate compared to the toll associated with the seasonal flu as evidence that the lockdown rules are unnecessary.

The double-sided sheet was spotted by RMIT ABC Fact Check after it was posted to Reddit (it has since been removed).

The Reddit user who published the flyer told Fact Check it had been delivered to his letter box in the South Melbourne area.

"The reason for this leaflet is to inform you, that the Australian Public have been tricked in relation to Novel Coronavirus COVID-19," the flyer reads. 

The flyer calls for all emergency laws to be revoked and an immediate re-opening of businesses.

Mailbox misinformation

In making their case, the authors of the leaflet compared Australia's COVID-19 deaths, numbering about 100, to the number of deaths caused annually by flu and pneumonia, of which there were 3,102 in 2018.

This pamphlet, delivered to a mailbox in Melbourne, contains numerous misleading claims about COVID-19. (RMIT ABC Fact Check Supplied) This pamphlet, delivered to a mailbox in Melbourne, contains numerous misleading claims about COVID-19. (RMIT ABC Fact Check Supplied)

For the most part, these numbers check out against Australian Bureau of Statistics figures

But, as experts have pointed out, the reason for Australia's low COVID-19 death rate has a lot to do with the very restrictions the authors of the leaflet want shelved.

Lyn Gilbert, a chief investigator at the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE), told Fact Check that while the figures cited in the leaflet were correct, they were "irrelevant".

"Because we have been so successful in all the suppression measures put in place early on, before the virus was transmitted widely in the community, there have been very few deaths," Professor Gilbert said.

"You only have to look at what happened in Italy, in Brazil, the United Kingdom, the US, or many European countries where their health systems and socio-economic conditions are not dissimilar to Australia's, to see that if we hadn't done this early we could easily have been in the same sort of situation."

Professor Gilbert said seasonal flu was "not anywhere near as bad as COVID, normally".

While the figures were woolly, the mortality rate for the seasonal flu was around 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent, partly because (except in cases of new pandemic strains) the population had a level of immunity to the virus.

A laundry list of conspiracies

The leaflet doesn't just argue that flu is worse than COVID-19 — it points to a wider conspiracy involving inflated death rates in the US, profiteering pharmaceutical companies and the notion that the coronavirus pandemic was contrived.

These are all claims that fact checkers around the world have debunked.

USA Today, for example, spoke to experts who agreed that, rather than being inflated, COVID-19 deaths in the US were likely to have been undercounted.

The suggestion that vaccines can "genetically alter the human RNA/DNA sequence" has also been rubbished, with fact checkers at PolitiFact pointing to a 2019 study that found that messenger RNA (or mRNA), which links genetic information in DNA to cells that produce proteins, "cannot potentially integrate into the host genome and will be degraded naturally".

"Basically, after the messenger molecules create antigens for the body to react to, they will naturally stop being used and break down," PolitiFact reported.

The pamphlet contains a number of debunked conspiracy theories.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger) The pamphlet contains a number of debunked conspiracy theories. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

Meanwhile, the pandemic simulation exercise named "Event 201", which is referred to in the leaflet under the heading "Conspiracy", did indeed take place in October 2019 and involved the World Health Organisation as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But suggestions that the timing of the event meant those organisations knew of the impending outbreak of the novel coronavirus have also been debunked.

The Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, which organised the simulation, has said the participants "did not make a prediction during [the] tabletop exercise" and that "the exercise served to highlight preparedness and response challenges that would likely arise in a very severe pandemic".

Author remains anonymous

The author or authors of the pamphlet do not identify themselves, saying only that the information was "produced and distributed by concerned citizens for Freedom in Australia".

A search of the Australian Charities Register did not reveal results for Freedom in Australia, nor is there a "Freedom in Australia" group on Facebook.

Misinformation spotters at First Draft were also unable to turn up anything conclusive on who may have authored the pamphlet.

They did, however, come across a comment posted to a website mentioned in the pamphlet by someone whose username leads to a broken link for the Occupy Hobart movement. 

"My plan is to come up with a red-pill pamphlet that I can mail drop," that user wrote, referencing a term, which in online parlance is used to describe a process in which a person's perspective is dramatically transformed, often away from “mainstream" ideas and consensus views.

The phrase is derived from the 1999 film The Matrix in which the protagonist is given the choice to take a blue pill — "the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe" — or a red pill — "you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes".

 

Principal researcher: Ellen McCutchan

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