Canadians face misinformation, uncertainty in bid to protect against coronavirus: experts

From coronavirus modelling to grim new unemployment numbers, there’s been a lot of information for Canadians to digest over the last week.

But in interviews with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Dr. Jason Kindrachuk say Canadians aren’t alone in trying to wrap their heads around it all to sort fact from fiction — and, in some cases, outright lies.

“In some cases, these are coordinated efforts, not always by state actors but coordinated efforts to de-legitimize state efforts, de-legitimize media, de-legitimize Western countries,” said Erskine-Smith.

He’s part of a group of Commonwealth politicians and access-to-information advocates behind a new coronavirus fact-checking website called Infotagion.

Many of the politicians involved were part of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy that studied the role of social media in spreading disinformation and violating people’s privacy in 2019.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Proceed with caution on COVID-19 modelling data

British MP Damian Collins, chair of that committee, founded the website, which also counts NDP MP Charlie Angus and Erskine-Smith among its Canadian supporters.

In essence, Erskine-Smith said, the site is trying to counter misinformation both big and small.

READ MORE: Growing surge of misinformation about COVID-19 is new enemy, UN chief says

“There was a large piece of disinformation propagated out of China that suggested this virus started out of the U.S. military. That is obviously untrue and that is debunked very clearly on Infotagion,” he said.

“It also gets into very concrete pieces of advice for individuals acting to protect their own health and to protect the health of our communities and those around us. So for example, there’s a recent post about homemade masks — do they work and if they do work, who do they work for, and very clearly.”

Kindrachuk, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pathogenesis of Emerging and Re-Emerging Viruses, said some of those questions just do not have simple answers right now.

4:59Social media giants grilled over your privacy and data
Social media giants grilled over your privacy and data

READ MORE: WHO: Countries will have to ‘live with’ coronavirus until vaccines emerge

On the issue of wearing homemade masks, he echoed chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam’s advice that people who can’t physical distance can wear one in order to protect other people.

But he stressed her point that there is not enough evidence to suggest doing so will protect the wearer.

“What we have to keep in mind is really our primary mechanism for defeating this virus and curbing transmission is physical distancing,” Kindrachuk said.

“We have to be conscious of that at all times.”

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DIY: How to make a “no-sew” face mask

He also addressed concerns some have raised about whether extra precautions need to be taken in handling groceries — should people wipe down boxes of cereal, for example?

“The virus basically varies in its ability to remain infection on certain surfaces. Basically, the smoother the surface, the greater the likelihood that virus is going to be able to hang around and be infectious,” he said, noting that it’s possible the virus could survive for up to 24 hours on paper and cardboard.

More likely, though, he said, it will only survive a few hours.

And when it comes to actually cooking, there’s no need to worry, he added.

“The virus is not that stable that it’ll be able to make it through those kinds of procedures.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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