Patients, doctors and scientists all agree COVID-19 disinformation is deadly

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has reassured New Zealanders that if they test positive for COVID-19 they can expect a phone call - not a text - after he revealed scam text messages had been sent falsely telling people they had caught the virus. 

It comes as the Government goes on a recruitment drive for someone to help them understand and analyse disinformation. 

Failed politician and conspiracy theorist Billy Te Kahika has been the face of anti-COVID propaganda in New Zealand. He was arrested in Auckland last week after protesting against the lockdown. 

Wellington isn't immune, with anti-COVID scrawls written on the pavement and pamphlets dropped into letterboxes - questioning the COVID-19 response at a time when we need community buy-in for locking down while the clusters flare.

"We've got to stamp out this outbreak of the virus," Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told a press conference on Tuesday. 

Even more worrisome was that Dr Bloomfield revealed someone is sending fake positive COVID-19 texts.

"There have been some scam test results being texted around to people telling people they've returned a positive test. I don't know if you've heard about this, but what I can say is, anyone whose test result is positive, will receive a phone call - not a text."

Disinformation around COVID-19 has become so pervasive that the Government is trying to hire someone specifically to tackle it.

"Unfortunately there is a very small but very vocal minority of people in New Zealand who are prepared to communicate information that is patently ridiculous," says Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at Otago University. 

One of the most persistent falsehoods is that statement we've all heard from someone, that COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu, as another failed politician - Jami-Lee Ross - tried to spruik at the last election.

It is rubbish. The seasonal flu has an infection fatality rate of 0.04 percent while COVID-19 is 1 percent.  

"COVID-19 is on average around 15-20 times more dangerous, more lethal," sys Prof Baker. 

Dr Bloomfield used Scotland as a comparator.

"Scotland, similar population - if we had followed the route they had, we would have had around 10,000 people die by now in about 20 months. Annually we have around 600 influenza-related deaths, so there's a magnitude of difference."

Professor John Wilson treated COVID-19 patients in the Melbourne outbreak.

"It is 10 times more deadly," he told Newshub. "It is many times more infectious. No question of that."

Jenene Crossan caught COVID-19. 

"It is certainly not anything like the flu," she says. 

She's a long haul COVID-19 patient and is still sick after 18 months. 

"It just doesn't seem to end, it just continues, and you just don't know how long that's going to go on for."

The patients - the doctors, the scientists all agree.

"Disinformation kills," says Prof Baker.