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Singapore

POFMA correction direction issued to Goh Meng Seng over COVID-19 Omicron variant falsehoods

SINGAPORE: A correction direction has been issued to opposition politician Goh Meng Seng over a Facebook video that contains "false and egregious claims" about the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (Dec 3). 

The video, which Mr Goh posted on various online locations on Facebook, "is misleading and seeks to sow public confusion about the COVID-19 virus as well as mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines", added the ministry. 

MOH said that the posts make the following misleading claims about possible interactions between the COVID-19 and HIV viruses, as well as the Omicron variant's resistance to vaccines:

  • The COVID-19 and HIV viruses could combine and become another virus which has the characteristics of the HIV and COVID-19 viruses.
  • The COVID-19 and HIV viruses could combine in a fully vaccinated patient to become an airborne HIV virus which is vaccine resistant.
  • It has been scientifically established that the Omicron variant is most probably the combination of the HIV and COVID-19 viruses, which combination had happened before Jun 4, 2021.
  • The currently available vaccines are totally useless against the Omicron variant.

The correction direction, issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), require Mr Goh to carry a correction notice alongside each Facebook post containing the falsehoods. 

"The Government takes a serious view of these falsehoods and a police report has been made in relation to the video," MOH said in a press release issued late on Friday night. 

Mr Goh had previously been issued a correction direction on Monday, in relation to a blog post that discouraged people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. 

CLARIFICATIONS ON FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT OMICRON VARIANT

The claims made in the Facebook post are false and "without any scientific basis", said MOH.

"Genetic recombination of viruses is known to occur only in genetically related viruses.

"The HIV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses are not related, and it is implausible in biological terms that these viruses can undergo genetic recombination. To date, there is also no scientific evidence that such a recombination between HIV and SARS-CoV-2 has occurred, contrary to Goh’s assertion."

MOH also refuted the claim that the HIV virus might become transmissible by droplets in the air. 

"Viruses simply do not change drastically enough to take on vastly different properties. HIV is transmitted via bodily fluids, eg. blood, semen, or vaginal secretions, and will remain to be so."

The ministry also said that "there is simply no scientific evidence" to make the claim that the Omicron variant is a combination of the HIV and COVID-19 viruses.

There is also no evidence to suggest that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are "totally useless" against the new variant.

"Studies are ongoing, and there is currently insufficient data on how the Omicron variant affects vaccine effectiveness. Most scientists believe that existing vaccines will retain some effectiveness against the Omicron variant, but protection may be less due to the large number of mutations in the Omicron variant."

MOH advised the public not to speculate or spread misinformation that may cause alarm, and to refer to credible sources of information instead.

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Source: CNA/nh(zl)

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