Covid-19: Italy’s fake hospital conspiracy theory debunked as post-truth era takes hold

The worst part about a conspiracy theorist’s elaborate attempt at convincing the world of a giant COVID-19 hoax isn’t how easily it was debunked.

The worst part is that it continues to be shared even after it was, somewhat ironically, revealed as fake news itself.

Such is the post-truth era that has emerged as a product of global pandemic where journalists and government officials are trusted less than social media users.

The scene of the supposed cover up is Italy, currently in the grip of a second wave, where there have been more than 1.5 million COVID-19 cases.

Of those, there are 795,000 active cases. There have been almost 53,000 deaths. On Italy’s worst day in March, there were almost 1000 deaths from the virus.

But instead of fearing the second wave, many Italians are accusing the government of faking the emergency.

Among the most aggressive attempts at uncovering the truth is a video that has circulated widely on social media and been seen by news.com.au.

It is filmed at the Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan by two women who claim reports in the media about overcrowded emergency departments are fake.

“We have been here for more than two hours and we haven’t heard a single ambulance,” one of the women says while the other holds a newspaper to the camera as verification of the date.

The women enter the building where there are no people. They say doctors are lying, journalists are complicit and politicians are benefiting from lockdown.

“They are terrorists,” the women claim after counting just seven people inside the hospital waiting area. But, as Politico reports, the video is a fake.

“The rooms it features are not located in the emergency wing of the hospital, which are in fact full,” the publication notes.

“Nor does the video show the places outside the hospital where ambulances regularly wait, lined up one after another, to discharge seriously ill patients.”

Politico cites other examples of conspiracy theories being pushed in Italy, including “posters which claim ambulances are driving around aimlessly without patients on board, or turning on their sirens simply to scare people”.

Forbes reports that the section of the hospital in the video “is a waiting room for patients’ relatives, currently closed due to COVID protocols” and that “doctors and experts across the country specify that the situation inside Italian hospitals is becoming increasingly serious”.

The woman who filmed the video has been sharing anti-vaccination material on her social media profiles for months. And she is far from alone.

But those working on the front line say Italians who doubt the reality of COVID-19 should visit them in hospital.

Andrea Artoni, a haematologist who works in a COVID-19 ward at the Milan Polyclinic, told Politico: “To those who deny the existence of this virus, I can only say to come and take a tour in one of our departments. Come and see how our people die suffocating, alone and lucid.”

Italy was the first European country to experience COVID-19 and on Monday this week passed a grim milestone of 50,000 deaths.

Most took place earlier this year, but around 15,000 deaths have been reported since the beginning of September.

The health ministry recorded 630 new deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 50,453. There were 22,930 new cases, to total more than 1.4 million.

Italy joins the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom in passing the symbolic 50,000-death mark, AFP figures show.

A punishing lockdown of all its 60 million residents brought the first outbreak under control but, as elsewhere, the number of cases has risen sharply in recent months.

Deaths have followed, with more than 750 recorded in one 24-hour period last week. The worst daily toll in Italy was 969 deaths, on March 27.

The Italian government has sought to avoid another lockdown after it crippled the economy, focusing instead on regional restrictions alongside a nationwide night-time curfew.

Officials say the measures, which include the closure of bars, restaurants and shops in the worst-hit areas, are having an effect.

But medics warn of the continued pressure on intensive care units, for although the number of beds has been increased there is a lack of qualified staff.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said last week that Italians should expect a “more sober Christmas, without Christmas Eve gatherings, hugs and kisses.

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