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Christchurch school apologises for false Covid-19 claims

A Christchurch school has apologised after sending false and potentially dangerous Covid-19 information to parents, claiming things like hot water and sunlight can kill the virus, and encouraging them to gargle chemicals.

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The school claimed things like hot water and sunlight can kill Covid-19. Source: 1 NEWS

Whītau School principal Sandra Smith became one of many Kiwis to be duped by false remedies spreading online. 

A section dubbed ‘Coronavirus Facts’, in a newsletter sent to parents of 300 primary school students, falsely claimed “hot drinks such as infusions, broths or simply hot water should be consumed abundantly”, incorrectly asserting hot drinks kill the virus, and that ice water or drinks with ice cubes should be avoided.

It also instructed students and parents to “ensure that your mouth and throat are always wet” and to take a sip of water at least every 15 minutes. They could also sunbathe as “the sun’s UV rays kill the virus” or gargle disinfectant solutions such as hydrogen peroxide.

In perhaps the most dangerous claim, the principal also advised that students could do a “simple verification” every morning to see if they had been infected.

“Breathe in deeply and hold your breath for 10 seconds. If this can be done without coughing, without difficulty, this shows that there is no fibrosis in the lungs, indicating the absence of infection”, the newsletter read.

“It is recommended to do this control every morning to help detect infection”.

The claims are all false and have alarmed infectious disease exert Dr David Murdoch, of the University of Otago in Christchurch, who says it appears the school had been caught up in some “fairly common myths”.

“We just need to follow measures that have some evidence behind them and make sense, and it is common sense, if you think about some of these factors, they just do not make sense, and some are potentially harmful,” he said.

“I think they might distract from some of the measures that actually make a difference, the physical distancing, the cough hygiene, the remaining in your bubble, the hand holding, they're the factors that we've got to keep focusing on.”

Whītau School board chairwoman Alexandra Davids apologised unreservedly in an interview with 1 NEWS, saying the principal was horrified to discover the error.

Ms Davids said the information had been provided by a trusted education consultant and slipped through wider checks, in a very busy time as the school was preparing for a lockdown.

“She feels very upset about what's happened, and she was literally doing it with the best intention, and she's very sorry for sending that information out,” the chairwoman said.

“We apologise for sending that misinformation out, it was sent out in good faith, but obviously a lot of that information has been debunked, and we do take responsibility for that.”

She encouraged her school community and others in the community to get their advice from the Government’s official Covid-19 website.

The principal isn’t the only one to get caught out by the false information, which has been widely circulating on social media and messaging services around the world for several weeks.

University of Canterbury marketing professor Dr Ekant Veer says misinformation is often sent with good intentions by those wanting to help, but can actually achieve the opposite.

“Misinformation is when you genuinely want to help, and you think you're genuinely helping, but you're spreading information that can be harmful as well,” he says.

“When you get misinformation, and especially when it's shared from a source that people trust, in this case a principal, parents, kids, maybe they might have believed it more than if it had just been shared by your uncle or your auntie.”

His advice was to always check information you read online with official sources, or to ask a health professional, before spreading it widely to help curb the problem.

The message for all tonight to check that your ‘facts’ are indeed facts.