Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

VIDEO: Fake news creates serious issues for battling pandemic, chief public health doc says

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share

Canada’s chief public health doctor is worried about the amount of false information being floated about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says when false information is spread — either intentionally or not — it does not help public health officials ensure the public has the information they need to make the right choices.

“As I reflect on the unprecedented pandemic that we have, there’s also I think the pandemic that’s occurred in the age of social media, and many different ways in which information is spread faster than the virus itself,” Tam said Tuesday at one of her regular news conferences on Parliament Hill.

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share by verifying it first with multiple and official sources.

“When you look at a piece of information, ask a number of questions, including exactly where this has come from,” said Tam. “Definitely ask yourself this question before you forward the information to someone else.”

Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed they respond frequently to queries about fake news. Some of it arises in other countries and is picked up here, sometimes it’s Canada-specific.

Trudeau said some of it comes from “foreign actors trying to disrupt successful democracies, others are people with extremist agendas within our countries trying to weaken people’s confidence in our institutions and our democracy.”

In many cases it has a real impact. A survey by health authorities in Quebec in August found about one-quarter of people in that province believed COVID-19 was created in a laboratory on purpose and a third felt the government was hiding things about the pandemic.

Other surveys have found people who believed conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins were less likely to follow public health advice about wearing masks, physical distancing and limiting contacts.

Trudeau said he was asked by a student in a recent forum about “COVID internment camps.”

“I had to explain that as we consume increasing amounts and various sources of information online and around us, we need to continue to be attentive to source, we need to continue to be attentive to comparing various reports and looking for trusted sources like Dr. Tam, like regional public health authorities, to tell the truth,” Trudeau said. “We need to hold together and resist people who would sow chaos within our communities (and) our democracy.”

The internment camps claim arose recently after Health Canada posted a request for information online seeking a business that might be able to help manage the government’s quarantine sites.

Health Canada has managed 11 quarantine sites in nine cities for travellers arriving from abroad who don’t have suitable places to quarantine, such as someone who lives with a senior citizen and whose home doesn’t have space to isolate from the high-risk individual for two weeks.

The department is now potentially looking for a third-party operator to manage quarantine sites.

Cole Davidson, press secretary for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the claims that quarantine sites are Canadian internment camps for people with COVID-19, are absolutely false.

“These emails and social media posts about ‘isolation camps’ are an example of false information being used to play on fears over a public health issue,” Davidson said. “Disinformation like this is intended to deceive Canadians and cause fear and confusion.”

Another claim floating around currently is that the federal government is making up the pandemic in a bid to generate public support for both a universal guaranteed income, and to relieve all household and consumer debt in Canada.

A spokesman for Trudeau said that claim has no basis in reality.

READ MORE: Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusfake newsvideo

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas. (Dennis Dugas photo)
Port Hardy mayor talks two years in office, ready to move forward in 2021

Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas tackles a number of different topics in an interview with the Gazette.

Dex needs surgery after breaking his paw in the panic caused by an apartment fire. (Submitted)
Dog needs surgery after apartment fire injury

A fundraiser has been started to contribute towards veterinarian costs

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Shown is Quality Foods at 319 Island Highway in Parksville. The Island-based grocery chain announced on Jan. 25 it made a $2-per-hour pay premium, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent. (Mandy Moraes photo)
COVID-19: Quality Foods makes $2-per-hour employee pay premium permanent

Island-based grocery chain had extended increase twice in 2020

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

Most Read