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'Don't swallow fake news about taking medicines', warns Leo

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

The Taoiseach has pleaded with people to stop sharing misinformation about the coronavirus on WhatsApp, as fake news about lockdowns and false medical advice continued to spread online.

The HSE was yesterday forced to advise anyone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19 not to stop taking medicine, after a false social media post claimed taking anti-inflammatories could make the virus worse.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, will not adjust any of the messaging app's features despite a glut of false information currently circulating on it.

In the past week, there have been false claims that the country is about to go into a "status red" lockdown, enforced by the Defence Forces; that four young people with the coronavirus were seriously ill in a hospital in Cork and that there was "significant evidence" that taking anti-inflammatory drugs would make Covid-19 worse.

Unverified

In a tweet yesterday, the Taoiseach appealed to the public to stop sharing "unverified" information on WhatsApp groups.

"These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage. Please get your info from official, trusted sources," Mr Varadkar said.

While French health authorities have warned people with Covid-19 not to take anti-inflammatories, the HSE said that anyone with the virus should continue to take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, naproxen or diclofenac.

"Only take one anti-inflammatory medication at a time," Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer at the HSE, said. "There is no evidence to stop any medication at this time. There is no need to order more medicines than you need, as this will affect the supply to others."

Messages forwarded on WhatsApp can't be traced to the original source, which means anonymous rumours can spread much more easily than on other social networks.

In 2018, WhatsApp was forced to introduce a limit on forwarded messages to just five chats at once in an bid to stop the spread of fake news.