Toxic masks, inhaling steam and Chinese cop shops in SA - more coronavirus myths debunked

The Covid-19 outbreak has fuelled conspiracy theories.
The Covid-19 outbreak has fuelled conspiracy theories.
Gallo Images

It seems that life under lockdown has created the perfect breeding ground for the spread of fake news, false information, hoaxes and scams about the novel coronavirus.

News24 has previously reported on a plethora of dodgy claims, and a few people have found themselves on the wrong side of the law for spreading incorrect information. 

In addition, the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has launched a six-month project that will combat the spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in South Africa and beyond.

Despite that, the spread of bogus assertions continue unabated. 

Masks won't give you carbon dioxide poisoning

One of the newest conspiracies being touted as an excuse for not wearing face masks, is that this can result in "hypercapnia", or carbon dioxide toxicity. However, according to Forbes, from surgical masks to home-made face coverings and N95 filtered masks, this simply does not happen.

Carbon dioxide toxicity can result in an altered mental state, loss of consciousness, an irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties and can even be fatal. But few people are at risk of experiencing hypercapnia in their everyday lives, while wearing masks, face coverings or not, reports Forbes.

This is because carbon dioxide molecules are simply too small to be controlled by the majority of mask materials and simply pass right through.

Forbes added that while coronavirus particles are so small that they can't be seen under regular microscopes, carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gaseous molecules in the air such nitrogen, are much, much smaller than the coronavirus and will pass right through both the filter and main material of an N95 mask and pretty much any other home-made or mass-manufactured mask materials. 

Inhaling steam won't cure you

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has reportedly urged his health ministry to "emphasise" steam inhalation as a way of treating Covid-19. 

Africa Check looked into this claim and found that there is no evidence that inhaling steam can treat the virus, which replicates in cells, and experts warned the practice is dangerous.

In a live broadcast on 22 April, Magufuli, speaking in Kiswahili, zeroed in on steam inhalation, which he asked the country's health ministry to publicise as the science in favour of it was clear cut, Africa Check reported. 

A transcript of Magafuli's speech, translated by Africa Check, reads as follows: "Therefore, I ask the health ministry, to emphasise this, for example the issue of steam inhalation. Scientifically, that is very clear. That's because steam comes from boiling water at temperatures above 100°C. And because the coronavirus is made up of fats, when exposed to such high temperatures above 100°C, it will just disintegrate. It is a scientific treatment."

It is "very unlikely" that steam inhalation will treat the coronavirus, Alberto Escherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, told Africa Check.

"The virus in infected individuals is within cells and will not be reached by steam," he reportedly said.

Siam weed doesn't cure coronavirus, as Nigerian prophetess claims

Africa Check also looked into a viral video that shows a Nigerian woman, who introduces herself as "prophetess Dupe Oluwaniyi", saying Siam weed, or Chromolaena odorata, is the cure for the novel coronavirus.

In the video, which has circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook, Oluwaniyi reportedly says she received the information by divine inspiration after praying about the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It is the remedy to cure coronavirus. Share, let everybody know. You can find it anywhere that is very near to you. Nobody is asking you for money. Let everybody know that this is the cure for coronavirus and look for it. Let them search it, let it go viral," she says.

The woman says the weed should be squeezed to extract a liquid to be drunk as a remedy, or boiled and drunk warm, like tea.

It is absolutely wrong to claim that any substance can cure any disease without rigorous scientific testing, Marycelin Baba, a professor of medical virology and microbiology at the University of Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, told Africa Check.

"The question to ask is: 'Where is the scientific evidence?' There is a long process the Siam weed needs to go through before it [can be] accepted as a cure. That process includes pre-clinical trials and clinical trials," Baba reportedly said.

The coronavirus did not originate in South Africa

A quote out of context suggesting that the novel coronavirus may have originated in South Africa has led to a virtual meltdown on social media.

Following publication of an online story in the UK's Daily Express newspaper, published on Monday, Humane Society International-Africa (HSI-Africa) has released a statement of clarification regarding the "misleading nature of its headline and various quotes" attributed to Audrey Delsink, HSI-Africa's wildlife director.

The article was aggregated by other publications, among those The South African, which ran a story with the headline: "Disease may have come from SA, not Wuhan: Expert's claim causes uproar".

Both publications have since updated their articles.

"While Delsink conceded that it is not inconceivable a pangolin trafficked from South Africa could have ended up in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, where the conditions were such that Covid-19 first evolved, she made no suggestion at all that the virus originated in South Africa," HSI-Africa said in a statement. 

Reports about Chinese police stations opening in SA are bogus, and 2 years old

According to French news agency AFP, the Chinese have not opened any police stations in the country, but they have set up 14 Community and Police Cooperation Centres to work with South African police.

A picture accompanying a Facebook post shows police officials from China attending the opening of the 14th centre in Port Elizabeth. The post - from 30 October 2018 - contains a picture from the opening with Eastern Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Liziwe Ntshinga and uniformed Chinese dignitaries, with a caption saying: "#Chinese are now opening their own Police Stations in South Africa to protect their own people and Businesses. #Ramaphosa and #ANC have sold our country to the highest Bider (sic)".

Some of the latest theories to surface include that: "China opened 13 police stations in SA to ensure the Chinese virus do (sic) what it was designed to do (sic)"; "The Chinese send there (sic) police first then the Chinese virus to clean SA for them. Africa is sold to China"; "China has started colonising SA, we have had (sic) of China mall, city, town and more recently Chinese police stations! What the f**k? Yes we need to deal with this"; and "Chinese personel (sic) have been deployed through out Johannesburg police stations recently".

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo told News24 on Wednesday that there was "no such thing as a Chinese police station in South Africa".

"These are just old posts that people have been spreading."

You can find all Africa Check's coronavirus fact-checks in one place at

- Compiled by Riaan Grobler

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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