Infodemic: German coronavirus denialists hit the road and an uncharacteristic apology from Kim Jong-un

Katia Patin


Welcome. We are tracking how disinformation is shaping the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, it’s Coda reporter Katia Patin with the latest narratives — both real and fake — that have grabbed our attention and deserve yours.

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Today, the so-called Great Corona Info Tour begins in Germany. Riding a recent wave of protests, two Covid-19 denialists are hitting the road in a luxury bus to promote their views. Samuel Eckert, a former Seventh-Day Adventist preacher, and Bodo Schiffmann, a doctor specializing in the treatment of vertigo, are both prominent leaders of Querdenken, the country’s anti-quarantine movement. The coach is equipped with a recording studio, from which Eckert has already started broadcasting.

Steam is the latest fake Covid-19 cure doing the rounds on Indian social media. One video circulating on Twitter showed a reported “steam bar” in the city of Pune, where patrons were inhaling vapor from a row of thin metal nozzles hooked up to a kitchen pot on a burner. Another viral video showed a man sucking up steam in his kitchen, using a homemade contraption consisting of a pressure cooker connected by a pipe. A woman narrates, telling viewers about the alleged benefits of doing so. Steam does not treat or prevent the coronavirus.

In Argentina, regional authorities are prescribing a variety of unproven treatments for the coronavirus. They include the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, plasma from recovered individuals and inhaled ibuprofen. The nation’s Society of Infectology has issued a warning that, while some initial laboratory analyses may be promising, none of these supposed remedies have been tested on humans. Promoting them “deceives patients and the whole of society,” said one of the top advisors to the Argentinian Ministry of Health. Last month, we reported on how some doctors in Brazil are experimenting with ivermectin, against the advice of scientists.

In Spain, health workers say that intensive care units for coronavirus patients are at 95% capacity. However, the Ministry of Health reports that only 47% of the country’s ICU beds are occupied. This confusion comes against a backdrop of coronavirus numbers even higher than they were in spring. According to the Spanish publication El Diario, doctors from more than 60 hospitals have organized WhatsApp groups to keep track of available beds.

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On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued an almost-unheard of apology to South Korea. North Korean units shot a South Korean government worker after he crossed a maritime border between the two countries. The patrols were following a “shoot-to-kill” order issued by the North Korean government earlier this month — a measure it said was aimed at keeping Covid-19 at bay. The number of global coronavirus cases passed 33 million this weekend, but North Korea is one of the small handful of countries still claiming to be 100% free of the disease. 

While each side has its own account, the South Korean military says a 47-year-old official with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries was found dead at sea on September 22. Authorities believe he jumped from his boat, was spotted by North Korean troops, shot and then burned. North Korean officials say they never found a body and had burned a flotation device the man had with him, in line with the country’s Covid-19 prevention measures. 

Some background:

  • In late August Kim appeared at a party meeting to discuss the dangers coronavirus posed to the country and even admitted that there were some “shortcomings” in national prevention methods. 
  • In early September, a shoot-to-kill order came into effect, as North Korea introduced a new buffer zone with the Chinese border. The country first closed its borders to the world in late January, impacting its vital supply chain with China.
  • Health experts, however, say that the border closure would have come too late to realistically keep the virus out.

What Kim Jong-un said: Kim is “greatly sorry,” according to a statement from his office, which also said the death of the South Korean man was “unsavory” and “should not have happened.”

What people are saying he did: According to Daily North Korea — a Seoul-based publication that reports on the country in detail — an anonymous military source said that, shortly after the apology, Kim praised the crew responsible for the shooting. The source added that its members will “likely receive a commendation soon.”

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Many thanks for reading, and to Coda’s Makuna Berkatsashvili, Oleksandr Ignatenko and Achi Tsitsishvili for spotting today’s stories. Please reach out with tips and feedback. Natalia will be back in your inbox on Friday.

Katia Patin

Multimedia Editor, Coda Story