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(MUST READ) 45m Nigerians will die of coronavirus? Verifying claims in viral WhatsApp audio

A voice message went viral on Sunday claiming the World Health Organisation estimates that 45 million Nigerians would die from coronavirus if the outbreak escalates in the country.

The voice note made its Twitter debut on Sunday night and by Monday morning, it was third on the list of Twitter’s worldwide trends.

TheCable ran checks to verify the claims made in the voice note and here is a summary of our findings, based on available facts and figures:

CLAIM: ‘REPORTED OYO CASE DAYS BEFORE THE NEWS BROKE’
VERDICT: False. The speaker said he announced there was a coronavirus case in Oyo state “three days or four days ago”, before Seyi Makinde, the governor, confirmed it.

“I already said that three days or four days ago, on one Whatsapp group. And the governor of Oyo is now reporting it today?” he asked.

It is not clear how he could have learnt about the Oyo case, but a statement from the governor issued on Sunday morning, the day the audio started circulating, said the result of that patient “was released at 17:35pm of March 21, 2020”.

If the result was released on March 21, 2020, (Saturday before the voice note went viral), it means the case was not confirmed “three or four days ago”.

CLAIM: ‘TWO STRAINS OF COVID-19, AND NIGERIA HAS THE MILD STRAIN
VERDICT: False. In the audio, the speaker claimed that two strains of the COVID-19 exist and that Nigeria stands at greater risk because the one being reported in the country is that which does not show symptoms in the patient.

While there are two strains of coronavirus because the causative virus is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), there is only one strain of the Covid-19.

This is according to information published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

There are natural asymptomatic Covid-19 patients and for others, they might not show symptoms because the virus is in its incubation period in their bodies.

The incubation period is the time between exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms.

CLAIM: NCDC REPORTS DIRECTLY TO WHO
VERDICT: False. The speaker claimed to have intel from information provided directed to the World Health Organisation by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

He named the WHO country representative in Nigeria to be “Dr Alemu, a woman from Rwanda”.

Charity Warigon, a communication specialist with the WHO, told TheCable that Wondimagegnehu Alemu, who served as Nigeria’s country representative for the WHO, left the country in 2018.

The WHO official also said Alemu is a man of Ethiopian origin not Rwandan as claimed.

What is more? She furth said the NCDC does not report directly to the WHO as the global organisation provides technical support at country level.

CLAIM: NIGERIA PLANNING TO PURCHASE USED PROTECTING GEARS
VERDICT: False. The speaker also claimed that Nigeria intends to buy used medical protective gears from in China.

“From a reliable source, Nigeria wants to buy used protective gear from China,” he said, adding: “While in China, they wear it once and dispose it (of).”

Eenfaa Bob-Manuel, the media director at the ministry of health, denied such plans.

“The minister has not said anything like that,” she told TheCable.

The NCDC also told TheCable that the claim is false.

CLAIM: NO MONEY IN NIGERIA’S RESERVES
VERDICT: False. The excess crude account is one of the reserves held by the Nigerian government. As of February, the balance of the ECA was $71 million.

This is excluding funds kept with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). One of such is the stabilisation fund held by the NSIA which is intended to “act as a buffer against short-term macro-economic instability”.

The country also has assets in other countries. The country’s foreign reserves (although not held in cash) was $35.9 billion as of March 19, 2020.

CLAIM: SPEAKER HAS LINKS WITH WHO
VERDICT: The speaker further said he volunteered with the United Nations and has access to data from the World Health Organisation where he is looking to join.

Warigon denied the two claims.

She told TheCable that the organisation does not have any links with any volunteers currently, and the only volunteer joining them in no distant time is female.

CLAIM: WHO ESTIMATES THAT 45 MILLION NIGERIANS WILL DIE
VERDICT: False. The speaker said, “our estimate is that 45 million people are going to die from the virus in Nigeria” referring to his affiliation with the WHO.

Data provided by the World Health Organisation, however, contradicts this claim.

In its March 6 situation report, which contains the latest range of mortality rate of the virus, the WHO said while the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, “the data we have so far indicates that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower”.

This means that with Nigeria’s population of 198 million, assuming all the citizens get infected, the number of persons to die from the infection would be between 5.94 million and 7.9 million.

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