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Debunked: No, this tweet saying that all Cheltenham racegoers from Ireland are being put into isolation is not true

The four-day racing festival finishes today.

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AS GREATER RESTRICTIONS are announced as part of Ireland’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, false information is being circulated online. 

Some of this information is deliberately designed to mislead people about measures being taken by State authorities. 

On such example is an image being shared which purports to feature a tweet from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlining restrictions being placed on Irish racegoers returning from the Cheltenham horse racing festival in the UK. 

The four-day festival ends today with approximately 65,000 people attending each day, many of whom travelled from Ireland. The decision by organisers to continue with the festival despite the potential for coronavirus transmission has led to much criticism.

Horse Racing Ireland announcing yesterday that racing in this country is to be held behind closed doors until 29 March. 

The image 

With the Cheltenham Festival completing its schedule today, questions have now turned racegoers returning to Ireland, giving rise to this specific piece of misinformation. 

The fake image appears to have been tweeted yesterday and claims that: “All people returning from the UK as of 4pm today will undertake 14-day isolation and tests in Maldron Dublin Airport Hotel”. 

It says that the decision was made “following talks with chief medical experts and the risk that Cheltenham presents”. 

This is FALSE. No such restrictions are being placed on people returning from Cheltenham.   

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 The facts

The tweet is incorrect on a number of fronts. Aside from the misspelling towards the end, it is simply not the case that people returning from the UK are being told to isolate for 14 days.

People who return from the Cheltenham festival and have symptoms may be tested, but this does not mean that everyone who returns from the festival is tested as a matter of course. 

The HSE and Department of Health have said that the risk of contracting Covid-19 is not as high in the UK as it is in other European countries with higher infection rates. 

Speaking this morning, Health Minister Simon Harris said that any person returning from Spain and Italy from today will be asked to restrict their movements for two weeks.

“That effectively means not going to work and to lessen your social contacts. They will be met by environmental health officers in the airport from today and given leaflets. They’ll be asked not quite to self-isolate but to restrict their movements,” he said. 

Harris is essentially outlining self-quarantine, different to the more severe self-isolation, as outlined by the HSE

cheltenham-festival-2020-st-patricks-day-cheltenham-racecourse A view of the crowd at day-three of Cheltenham yesterday. Source: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

The Health Minister was asked why the same measures do not apply to racegoers returning from Cheltenham. He responded: 

I know it seems counterintuitive to all of us here in Ireland as we are restricting mass gatherings and the likes, to see such a large one taking place in the UK, but the public health emergency team did consider this specifically last night, and it is a statement of fact that, as of now, the UK is not deemed to be an affected area in the same way as Spain or Italy.

As of this morning, the number of positive Covid-19 cases in the UK stands at 590 compared to 15,113 in Italy and 3,004 in Spain. 

Varadkar himself was asked about Irish racegoers returning from Cheltenham while in Washington yesterday and said that testing everyone who returned wouldn’t be effective. 

“As I understand, one of the difficulties with testing at the moment is that we don’t have a proper serology test, so you will only test positive if they have symptoms, if they have a high temperature,” the Taoiseach stated.

And the advice that we have from our public health experts is that screening people for temperature at the airport’s wouldn’t be effective. But this is a rapidly developing situation. The science of this is not well-known and if our public health team advise us to carry out any additional checks to the airports we’ll do exactly that.

cheltenham-festival-2020-gold-cup-day-cheltenham-racecourse Racegoers using hand sanitiser dispensers at the festival. Source: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

Despite this, people returning from the festival may be tested if they are displaying symptoms, with the HSE saying last night that it is planning to expand the testing criteria.  

Previously, testing was focused on people with symptoms if they’d returned from an at risk area or if they had come into contact with a known positive case, but the HSE confirmed last night that this was to be expanded. 

Speaking this morning, Chief Clinical Officer at the HSE Dr Colm Henry said the executive was “lowering the bar for testing”. 

“We now want to explore further testing. We need to plan for this and we’re actually talking with GP groups and other people in primary community care to see how we can apply testing to anybody who develops symptoms that may be suspicious for this Covid-19 infection. They include people with fever and new onset fever and people with new onset cough,” he said. 

So while questions are likely going to continue about the decision to proceed with the Cheltenham festival, those returning from the UK are not undertaking isolation. 

They will also not be tested as a matter of course, but will be able to be tested should they display symptoms. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

STOP, THINK AND CHECK

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere.

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate.

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Give us a shout and we’ll look at debunking it: WhatsApp us on 085 221 4696 or email answers@thejournal.ie 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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