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Debunked: Yes, the virus that causes Covid-19 has been isolated and photographed

A post on Instagram claims that SARS-CoV-2 has never been isolated.

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A POST ON Instagram has claimed that Covid-19 has never been isolated or photographed because it does not exist.

The claim is made in a caption beside a photograph of documents from the group Anti-Corruption Ireland, which incorrectly concluded that Covid-19 does not exist following a response to a Freedom of Information request.

We previously debunked Anti-Corruption Ireland’s claim here.

The caption on the Instagram post states: “Rona [i.e. the coronavirus that causes Covid-19] has never been isolated or photographed. Because it doesn’t exist.”

However, the virus that causes Covid-19 – SARS-CoV-2, has been isolated many times and photographed.

When a virus is isolated, a sample of the virus is taken from a person or animal who is infected by it so that it can be studied.

This is done so scientists can learn about how a virus works, mutates and interacts with people’s or animals’ immune systems, as well as finding ways to develop medicines and vaccines to treat it.

SARS-CoV-2 has been isolated by scientists across the world, in places like the US and Canada, as well as at home in Ireland, where it has been taken from patients who acquired Covid-19 in hospital.

What’s more, the isolation of the virus in laboratory settings has enabled scientists to identify thousands of mutations of SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

Some of those mutations, such as a longer spike protein which make the virus more infectious, have recently caused concern among public health officials, including B117 (the ‘UK variant’) and 501.V2 (the ‘South African variant’).

It is simply untrue to suggest that the virus which causes Covid-19 has not been isolated.

Likewise, it is not true to say that SARS-CoV-2 has never been photographed.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an agency with the US Department of Health, reported last year that scientists had produced images of the virus as early as 11 February – more than a full month before a global pandemic was declared.

The images were produced by Rocky Mountain Laboratories in the state of Montana, using scanning and transmission electron microscopes (because the virus is so small that it can’t be photographed using a conventional camera).

You can look at the images here, but here’s a sample:

Coronavirus11 Source: NIAID-RML/Flikr

Again, as you can see from the image above, the claim that SARS-CoV-2 has not been photographed is false.

Finally, the image in the Instagram post also claims that a response by the HSE to a Freedom of Information request proves that Covid-19 does not exist.

However, the response given by the HSE explains that the request for records was refused under Section 15 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, a standard response when the records sought do not exist.

The FOI request was refused because the HSE did not need to show the existence of a virus that had already been found to be circulating in the community and around the globe, and therefore did not create any records proving this.

In a previous statement to TheJournal.ie, the health service directly addressed the claim that Covid-19 does not exist, explaining that it is a disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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It is a false conclusion and a misinterpretation of the FOI Act to suggest that by refusing a request for records proving the existence of SARS-CoV-2, the HSE admitted that the virus does not exist.

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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.

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