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Debunked: Despite what those WhatsApp messages predicted, the country has not gone into lockdown in the past two days

The Defence Forces have been very busy – but they’re not patrolling the streets.

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wapp One of the many messages sent from WhatsApp in the last week.

DESPITE ALL THE texts, WhatsApp voice notes, Facebook messages and everything in between, the Defence Forces did not take to the streets to carry out a so-called “Status Red lockdown” over the past two days. 

The suggestion had been widely shared across the country: since TheJournal.ie started a project debunking rumours about the coronavirus, the two most shared messages that we have tracked have been to do with Ireland about to go into a lockdown. 

At one stage on Monday, the two WhatsApp messages about an impending lockdown made up more than 80% of the messages being shared by our readers about the coronavirus, suggesting that they were being seen by tens of thousands of people. 

It began late last week as the country became gripped by panic and fear of the growing spread of Covid-19.

That’s when the rumours started – the unsubstantiated messages that began to flood everyone’s devices at a rate not too dissimilar to the spread of the virus worldwide. 

One of the two more widely shared messages stated the following: 

Hey guys just to let you know I’m speaking to my friend who is a guard and just out of conference. Full lockdown being announced at 11am to come into effect on Tuesday (yesterday). Shops will only be opened for a certain amount of time each day with the army outside only allowing certain amount of people in each time. Max 100 people allowed to queue. He said make sure you buy bottled water and any baby stuff required. It could be for two weeks or 30 days and is up for review after that. Hospitals have been told to be prepared for Tuesday and army and fire services be prepared for Wednesday. Fire brigade will possibly be used for ambulance duties also. 

The other was a video showing only a dark room with a bright light in it. A man speaking slowly told listeners to “take what I’m going to tell you as gospel”. 

File A screengrab of the video.

In the video, the man said that his best friend works for a car hire company and had been in a meeting with An Garda Síochána, the HSE and the Defence Forces at which a large number of cars had been hired and purchased.

There is some truth to this, which may have given some credence to the message: gardaí have hired up to 210 new vehicles to provide community support during the coronavirus outbreak. 

He then, however, says that the message “isn’t designed to make you panic but to give you an insight”. He says that the country is going to be going into a 14-day complete lockdown, with public transport cancelled, army patrolling the cities to stop looting and with all shops closed. 

This is obviously completely untrue. 

Other countries have announced different levels of lockdowns. 

In France, all cafes, restaurants and cinemas have been shut. Italy, the most affected country in Europe, has banned travel between regions unless it has been signed off by a medical professional.

Monday came and went, as did Tuesday and there was no sign of an announcement of a lockdown. 

Instead, the Defence Forces have been working with other arms of the State to provide assistance. 

So far, members have been helping colleagues from the National Ambulance Service by manning the emergency number phonelines.

Elsewhere,  the LÉ Samuel Beckett arrived in Dublin on Monday as part of the Defence Forces’ efforts to generate more capacity to help medical staff. The DF said it “stands ready” to help when requested. 

In a video posted today, Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, said: “We are moving to an enhanced force posture and are commencing operations alongside the civil authorities to counter the Covid-19 threat to our people and our communities. 

“In the weeks and month ahead, out mission is to defend and protect the citizens of Ireland as we face this threat, we will be strong, resilient and steadfast, we will overcome this adversity. 

“We will do everything in our power to defend and protect our citizens.”

Tweet by @Óglaigh na hÉireann Source: Óglaigh na hÉireann/Twitter

Tweet by @Óglaigh na hÉireann Source: Óglaigh na hÉireann/Twitter

What this all means in simple terms is that the Defence Forces are making sure they are as prepared as possible to assist the national effort against coronavirus if and when they receive a request for assistance.

The Defence Forces are currently at “status yellow”. This means that the members are on call to be deployed to help other civil authorities such as the gardaí and the health workers. 

There are NO plans for a so-called full lockdown at this moment in time, according to a Defence Forces spokesperson. 

There may well be further announcement from the Irish State about closures but, if and when they happen, you will hear it from trusted news outlets. 

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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.

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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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