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Debunked: No, the HSE is not telling people to stockpile food, despite what this WhatsApp message says

The rumour has been doing the rounds on WhatsApp in Ireland today.

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THERE IS A high volume of false information being shared on WhatsApp and social media across Ireland around the spread of coronavirus. 

One of the themes that comes up repeatedly is around stockpiling. 

One message being shared today on WhatsApp says that people in the HSE “are… suggesting stocking up for 3-4 weeks at least. Groceries/medicine etc.”

(The message also says that the government is planning to deploy the army on Monday, which we have debunked here). 

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This information is FALSE. No-one is being urged to stockpile food. In fact, the opposite is the case. 

The facts

Judging by the photographs of long queues in shops across Ireland over the past two days, it would be easy to conclude that people had been told to buy extra food. It’s not the case, however. 

We asked the Department of Health for the official advice and here’s what they said: 

“The Taoiseach, the Minister for Health, and the Minister for Business have been categorical in their advice that stockpiling of food is unnecessary and may in fact harm others,” a spokesperson said. 

“We have robust supply chains and there is no need for anyone to stockpile groceries.” 

The comments were echoed by the Freight Transport Association Ireland, which represents more than 25,000 people who work in transporting goods into Ireland. 

“We’re advising the public not to panic as supply chains are operating as normal and there is no need to stockpile foods or other products,” Aidan Flynn, the general manager of FTA Ireland told TheJournal.ie today. 

Flynn said that the supply chain is resilient but people stockpiling “will undoubtedly put pressure on it”. 

“We all need to be considerate and calm in dealing with this issue,” he said.

Other countries, including Italy and China which have seen the largest number of cases of coronavirus, have also managed to keep supermarkets stocked and the supply chain going. 

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 Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

The unintended consequences of stockpiling can cause problems for people who are vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus.

Professor Patrick Mallon, a consultant with a speciality in infectious diseases at Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital, said that stockpiling from supermarkets is difficult for people “who have to socially distance themselves the most – older people, for example”. 

“We don’t want a scenario where everyone has gone in and stripped the shelves in supermarkets bare and elderly neighbours are left with limited options of what they can buy,” he told TheJournal.ie. 

“It’s time to take a step back and think of other people.”

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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

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