Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Doctors in Video Falsely Equate COVID-19 With a ‘Normal Flu Virus’


Quick Take

A video posted by a European-based group called World Doctors Alliance falsely claims the novel coronavirus is “a normal flu virus” and there is no COVID-19 pandemic. Actually, COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu, and some European nations are combatting a second wave of cases.


Full Story

According to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we remain in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, with an uptick in case numbers and hospitalizations straining the ability of medical centers in some areas to cope. Some European governments have imposed more restrictions to fight another wave of cases.

Yet on Oct. 10, Heiko Schöning, a German physician and head of a group known by the German acronym ACU2020, announced formation of an organization called World Doctors Alliance to challenge the veracity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The alliance website claims it is “abundantly clear that the ‘pandemic’ is basically over and has been since June 2020.”

An 18-minute video announcing the group’s formation was posted on the ACU2020 website but has since been taken down by YouTube for violating its terms of service. Still, portions of the video featuring two doctors challenging the science behind the pandemic are circulating on Facebook with false assertions and statistics.

Staking out the group’s position, Elke De Klerk, a Dutch general practitioner, says on the video, “We do not have a pandemic” and calls COVID-19 a “normal flu virus” – claims flatly rejected by the WHO, CDC, and other experts.

De Klerk claims the pandemic designation was based on poor testing, with the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, molecular test returning false positive results in “89 to 94%” of the cases. That’s not true.

While the false positive rate remains an area of continued examination, preliminary studies show the test’s false positive rate is far less than De Klerk claims. A recent article in the British medical publication The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, said estimates in the U.K. place the false positive rate in the 0.8 to 4% range, while false negatives could run as high as 33%.

As for the virus that causes COVID-19, scientists universally agree it is a novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, not a strain of influenza.

While the death rate for COVID-19 remains uncertain, as we have reported, evidence suggests it is higher than for seasonal influenza.

In De Klerk’s own country, the Netherlands, there have been more than 6,800 deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far this year, compared to 2,900 due to flu and pneumonia in 2018-19.

In the U.S., where COVID-19 has caused more than 220,000 deaths, the worst flu season in the past decade killed an estimated 61,000 people in 2017-18, as we’ve reported. In fact, COVID-19 so far has killed more people in the U.S. than the past five flu seasons combined, and hundreds more die each day.  

In addition, a CDC study released Oct. 20 found hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the Veterans Health Administration had a five times higher risk of death than patients with the flu.

The other speaker in the video circulating on Facebook is Dolores Cahill, a professor at the medical school at the University College Dublin in Ireland. Cahill, who has become something of a lightning rod as a COVID-19 denier, claims on the video that there have only been 98 deaths in Ireland due to the coronavirus since April.

But according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office, more than 1,800 people have died of COVID-19 in the country, all but 200 since April.

And with cases on an upswing, the Irish government announced Oct. 19 that it was imposing tough new restrictions to slow the spread of the disease. The measures, which will last until at least Dec. 1, require all non-essential retail businesses, barbers, hairdressers, and salons to close and ban gatherings in homes. Restaurants and pubs will be limited to takeout and delivery service.

Cahill has found herself under fire from both her university, which issued a statement disassociating itself from her views, and the European Union, which asked her to resign from an EU medical panel.

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Past Seasons Estimated Influenza Disease Burden. Accessed 21 Oct 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Risk for In-Hospital Complications Associated with COVID-19 and Influenza: Veterans Health Administration, United States, October 1, 2018 – May 31, 2020.” 20 Oct 2020.

Central Statistics Office (Ireland). COVID-19 Information Hub. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.

Davies, Guy. “Further restrictions, curfews imposed in Europe as continent fights ‘second wave’ of coronavirus cases.” ABC. 19 Oct 2020.

Dolores Cahill profile. Professor, School of Medicine, University College Dublin.

Gallagher, Aoife. “UCD professor asked to resign EU committee over Covid-19 claims.” The Irish Times. 13 Jun 2020.

Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. Coronavirus Resource Center. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.

Keena, Colm. “UCD school of medicine disassociates itself from professor’s views.” The Irish Times. 19 Jun 2020.

Lockerd Maragakis, Lisa. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 19 Oct 2020.

Lovelace Jr., Berkeley. “Coronavirus hospitalizations are growing in 37 states as Fauci the world not ‘on the road’ to ending pandemic yet.” CNBC. 19 Oct 2020.

McDonald, Jessica, et. al. “Trump’s COVID-19 Misinformation Since Testing Positive.” 6 Oct 2020.

Menendez, Elisa. “Coronavirus: Ireland will go back into lockdown for six weeks from Wednesday.” Metro.co.uk. 19 Oct 2020.

Our World in Data. University of Oxford. Accessed 21 Oct 2020.

Surkova, Elena, et. al. “False-positive COVID-19 results: hidden problems and costs.” The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. 29 Sep 2020.

The Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. Facts and figures flu in the Netherlands. Aug 2019.

World Doctors Alliance. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.

World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.

World Health Organization. Netherlands Situation. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.

World Health Organization. Netherlands: Influenza and Pneumonia. Accessed 20 Oct 2020.