A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Misinformation on Coronavirus Death Toll


Quick Take

Websites and social media posts have circulated the erroneous claim that there are “thousands” or “10,000” dead as a result of the Wuhan coronavirus. As of early Jan. 27, the estimated death toll is 81 — all of them in China.


Full Story 

As health officials around the world grapple with the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that has spread from Wuhan, China, online misinformation has spread about the number of deaths related to the new virus.

The number of confirmed cases of the virus worldwide numbered 2,886 and the total confirmed deaths stood at 81 — all of them in China — as of early Jan. 27, according to data collected and mapped by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The data is drawn from sources such as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and China’s National Health Commission.

The Hubei province in China, which includes Wuhan, has so far reported 76 deaths.

Those figures stand in stark contrast to social media posts and online stories that have erroneously claimed the number of fatalities is actually in the thousands.

The Geller Report, a website run by anti-Islamic activist Pamela Geller, for example, published and spread a headline reading: “CORONAVIRUS: Reports of 10,000 DEAD in Wuhan, China.”

But the story links to one “unconfirmed” report that is actually just hearsay on a website about gold and metals, jsmineset.com, which has a disclaimer that says it can’t vouch for the “accuracy or completeness” of its information.

Jsmineset.com published an email on Jan. 24 from someone named “Robert,” who wrote: “I just received a call from a close American friend of mine who just got off the phone with a Chinese friend, who has relatives in Wuhan. He says there may already be ~10,000 dead there from the virus.” The email offers no other evidence for the claim.

Likewise, some Facebook users shared a post that claimed — without any sourcing — that the “CORONAVIRUS MUCH WORSE THAN YOU’RE BEING TOLD – THOUSANDS DEAD,” and regurgitated the falsehood that there is an existing patent for the new coronavirus — which we’ve previously debunked.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that often cause respiratory illnesses in humans and other illnesses in animals, according to the CDC. The new coronavirus is being referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.

The U.S., to date, has five confirmed cases of the virus.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China.” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 26 Jan 2020.

Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Global Cases.” Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 27 Jan 2020.

McDonald, Jessica. “Social Media Posts Spread Bogus Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory.” FactCheck.org. 24 Jan 2020.