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Debunked: No, researchers did not 'invent' the coronavirus in 2015

Posts speculating about the origin of the virus have been widely shared in recent weeks.

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NUMEROUS POSTS ON social media have incorrectly claimed that researchers invented the coronavirus years ago.

Posts speculating about the origin of the virus have been widely shared in recent weeks.

Many of these posts describe patents related to coronavirus as proof that researchers and governments have been aware of the current strain of the virus for years.

The fact that several patents refer to coronavirus has resulted in some confusion on social media.

Coronavirus is a broad name for a family of viruses that were first discovered in the 1930s and which cause illnesses in humans and animals, including Covid-19 – the disease at the centre of the pandemic.

One popular Facebook post in particular, which has been widely shared in Ireland in the last two weeks, claims that the virus was invented by researchers five years ago.

93292116_10219355644914156_1574181964401868800_o Source: Facebook

It cites a patent filed by the UK-based Pirbright Institute in 2015 in relation to the avian infectious bronchitis virus, which infects poultry, and porcine deltacoronavirus, which infects pigs. Both of these viruses are in the coronavirus family.

Neither have anything to do with the current coronavirus which causes Covid-19 in humans and which was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. 

Back in January, when earlier versions of the misinformation were spreading, Pirbright confirmed that the patent in question relates to animals and the institute “does not currently work with human coronaviruses”.

The patent is for the development of a weakened form of the coronavirus which could potentially be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds and other animals. 

The post being widely shared in Ireland also makes reference to the fact Pirbright has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As set out by Fullfact here, the Pirbright Institute does receive some funding from the foundation, although not for this patented work.

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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.

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

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? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie   

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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