“New” COVID variant is old and fake news says Department of Health

  • News reports and social media posts about SARS-CoV-2 Omicron XBB being the deadliest ever are not to be believed says the Department of Health.
  • While the variant is real the immunity to it is high given the rate of vaccinations.
  • The Department of Health notes that this disinformation could gain traction based on the fact that South Africa is entering flu season.

Ahead of Wednesday’s public holiday, there were several reports and posts on social media about a new deadly strain of the COVID-19 virus. However, reports about the danger of this COVID variant have been recycled and exaggerated.

The variant in question is SARS-CoV-2 Omicron XBB which is a real variant only it was discovered in September 2022 according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. This variant was said to have increased immune evasion and did give rise to several other sublineages including XBB.1, XBB.2, XBB.3 and more recently the XBB.1.5 sublineage.

“Due to the widespread circulation of other Omicron sublineages, and the overall high population immunity in South Africa, the introduction of XBB.1.5 in South Africa may not necessarily result in a large wave of infections,” the NICD wrote in 2023.

Some folks have decided to recycle this variant and incite fear within South Africa and this forced the Department of Health to make a statement.

“We urge members of the public to be vigilant and ignore this malicious social media content whose intent is to cause unnecessary panic and confusion, especially as the country is entering influenza season,” the department said on Tuesday.

“The fact of the matter is COVID-19 remains circulating at relatively low levels around the country just like in other parts of the world. Thus, there is no need for public to panic because many people have developed some level of immunity from both vaccine and infections. The current strain or variant in circulation is less severe and less transmissible,” it added,

The use of a real variant to spread fake news is actually something we’ve seen many times before. It’s a tactic that works as anybody searching for COVID-19 Omicron XBB will find real literature about the variant. However, we suspect that those spreading this information are hoping that folks won’t check the dates that things are published leading to them becoming fearful of something that they needn’t be fearful of.

Essentially, swindlers lean on the fact that folks don’t read properly and instead believe those who they really shouldn’t.

As the Department of Health mentioned, this disinformation is likely to gain traction because it is flu season and folks are likely to get ill. If you do get sick, stay home, visit a doctor and get well. Just don’t fall for fake news as you scroll through social media.

[Image – Engin Akyurt from Pixabay]


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