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Friday, July 16, 2021
Edited by Ellen McCutchan with thanks to Ellen Blake
This newsletter draws on our own resources and those of our colleagues within the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), of which RMIT ABC Fact Check is a member.

Good morning,

This week, CoronaCheck investigates whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrongly claimed that jets could not land at an airport in Toowoomba, as suggested by Labor senator Kristina Keneally.

We also look at yet another incorrect claim made by Craig Kelly, and fact check Mr Morrison on the success rate of hotel quarantine.

No, the PM did not say that jets couldn't land in Toowoomba

Supplied: Paul Smith

As the federal government plans for a "COVID normal" future, it has flagged a willingness to use permanent, purpose-built quarantine facilities for people arriving from overseas. 

In Queensland, the state Labor government's proposal for such a facility at the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, about 150 kilometres west of Brisbane, has been rejected by the federal government for failing to meet "key requirements".

Taking to social media last week, federal Labor senator Kristina Keneally said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had "rejected the idea of using Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba for a quarantine facility after claiming the runway wasn't big enough for jets", labelling that reasoning as "BS".

"He landed his own jet at Wellcamp Airport two years ago," Senator Keneally wrote on Facebook and Twitter alongside a screenshot of a 2019 Facebook post from the airport announcing a visit from Mr Morrison.

Fellow Labor senator Murray Watt made a similar claim in May which referenced the same Facebook post.

But Mr Morrison doesn't appear to have ever made such a claim.

Fact Check could not find any instances of Mr Morrison referring to the airport's runway or its capacity to take incoming jets, in any media appearances, news conferences or while in Parliament.

In an email, a spokeswoman for Senator Keneally told Fact Check the senator had "paraphrased" Mr Morrison.

"He repeatedly told journalists that Toowoomba was not suitable for a quarantine facility because the planes didn't fly there," she said, pointing to two media appearances made by the Prime Minister in May.

During these — a radio interview and doorstop press conference — Mr Morrison did say that "the planes don't fly" to Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport.

However, this claim was made in the context of discussions around arriving international commercial passenger flights; Mr Morrison was not referring to all jets.

According to media reports, the federal government's key criteria for the selection of quarantine sites included being within reasonable proximity to an international airport taking regularly scheduled international commercial passenger flights.

While Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport did not respond to a request for comment, its website indicates that the airport accepts regular international freight planes. While it has been used for ad hoc international passenger services and may have ambitions of increasing direct overseas passenger services, that has yet to occur. Currently, people wishing to fly internationally on a commercial flight would need to transit through a capital city. 

Craig Kelly spreads more COVID-19 misinformation

ABC News: Matt Roberts

As Sydney was plunged deeper into lockdown amid fears over the spread of the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 variant, maverick federal MP Craig Kelly questioned the severity of the strain.

Ahead of an appearance on Alan Jones's Sky News program, Mr Kelly, in a video posted to Twitter, claimed the fatality rate of the Delta variant was "one-tenth to one-twentieth" of the "original Alpha strain" of the virus.

The Alpha strain, otherwise known as B.1.1.7, was first documented in the United Kingdom in September 2020, and is different to the original strain of novel coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China earlier that year. 

Mr Kelly used data published in a technical report by government agency Public Health England to support his claim that the Delta variant had lower rates of fatalities.

The report details case fatality rates, which epidemiologists use to show the proportion of confirmed cases of a disease that end in death for a particular period. 

It showed that as of July 5, Delta variant fatalities in England amounted to 0.2 per cent of cases compared with 2 per cent for cases of the Alpha strain of the virus.

But as the report notes, "case fatality is not comparable across variants as they have peaked at different points in the pandemic, and so vary in background hospital pressure, vaccination availability and rates and case profiles, treatment options, and impact of reporting delay, among other factors".

Fact checkers at Politifact detailed how social media users were manipulating these technical reports to spread misinformation regarding the deadliness of Delta.

University of NSW Kirby Institute virologist Stuart Turville told Fact Check the technical reports needed to be viewed within context.

"They are great resources but only provide a snapshot of the UK-COVID dynamics," Professor Turville said, pointing to high vaccination rates in England.

Gregory Dore, also of the Kirby Institute, told Fact Check there was no clear evidence to support Mr Kelly's claim that the Delta variant was less lethal than the original strain.

Professor Dore, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist, said the Delta strain's lower rate of fatality was a result of high rates of vaccination and the fact the strain was infecting a lower age group.

According to the BBC, 86 per cent of English adults had received their first vaccination shot, while 65 per cent had been fully vaccinated.

The Public Health of England report cited by Mr Kelly showed that, since February, 90 per cent of the patients who required emergency care after being infected with the Delta variant were under the age of 50. 

"Once you adjust for these factors — and maybe improved treatment — there is no evidence Delta is less fatal," Professor Dore said.

He also pointed to a Scottish study, published in The Lancet, which showed the hospitalisation rate of those with the Delta variant was approximately double that for people infected with the Alpha variant, suggesting Delta was more likely to cause serious illness.

However, the research team from the University of Edinburgh cautioned that the results were preliminary and "a fuller understanding will come when the results … are combined with similar analyses from other data sets".

Added Professor Dore: "I'm currently saying there's no strong evidence either way." 

Scott Morrison says hotel quarantine has been 99.9 per cent successful. Is that correct?

ABC News: Ian Cutmore

With coronavirus outbreaks linked to breaches in hotel quarantine having forced lockdowns throughout the pandemic, the federal government has faced calls to open purpose-built quarantine facilities in each state and territory.

In an interview with Sky News on June 25, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the hotel quarantine program "had a lot of critics" but defended its record, stating:

"[A]bout 370,000 people have been through that system, and I think there's been about 26 breaches and less than 10 of those [have] led to community transmission. 

"So, if I told you a year ago when we did this that, you know, I reckon we do this, we'll get a 99.9 per cent success rate, I think you would have told me that, ‘Mate, I know you believe in miracles, but that's a bit of a stretch'. But that's actually what's happened."

RMIT ABC Fact Check this week found that claim to be spin.

Experts contacted by Fact Check took issue with Mr Morrison's measure of "success" in regard to hotel quarantine.

However, there were differing opinions on which numbers should be used in determining success.

Some experts, for example, believed the full impact on the community of hotel quarantine breaches should be taken into account.

Others suggested applying more complex calculations which factored in hotel quarantine leaks that had not been discovered through testing or contact tracing.

Furthermore, complex modelling in academic research on coronaviruses in other countries suggests that a much more robust method of calculating the success of hotel quarantine is possible.

Though experts were not able to point to any such research in the context of Australia's hotel quarantine, it is clear that Mr Morrison's calculation is simplistic.

One expert offered the analogy of an airline to illustrate the point: "If an airline had seven crashes in six months and they defended themselves by saying, 'well, we take more passengers than the other airlines,' would you still fly on that airline? For me, risk is binary when it's a critical system with dire consequences."

From Washington, D.C.

More than a year after George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer spurred the global Black Lives Matter movement, politicians in the US continue to grapple with activists' calls for police departments to be "defunded".

While neither the Republican nor Democratic Parties have committed to such action, that hasn't stopped both sides from wrongly claiming the other is responsible for police forces losing funding.

As fact checkers at the Washington Post and concluded recently, a claim made by a White House official that congressional Republicans had effectively defunded police by not supporting emergency relief legislation was misleading.

According to Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, when Republicans voted no on a $US1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill — which many local governments had said would help "patch budgets, hire officers and avoid police layoffs", according to the Post — they had effectively voted to defund police.

However, as the Post points out, the $US350 billion earmarked in that package for state and local governments represented possible extra funding for police. By voting no, Republicans were not voting to cut funding to (or defund entirely) police departments. Had the bill not passed, funding levels would have stayed the same.

"[V]oting against a one-time infusion of cash is not the same as voting to cut funding, so there is little basis to claim that Republicans are trying to ‘defund the police'," the Washington Post Fact Checker concluded.

Meanwhile, a Republical National Committee claim that crime in the US was "escalating to a level" not seen in decades as a result of the "Democrats' defund the police movement" and the Biden administration's "open-border policies" was found by PolitiFact to be false.

According to the fact checkers, it was incorrect to say that crime had risen to a level not seen in decades, and while homicides were up in 2020, there was no evidence to tie them to a police defunding policy or the Democrats' border policy.

Moreover, as PolitiFact pointed out, defunding police is not Democratic Party policy.

"A handful of Democrats have spoken out for it, but during the 2020 campaign, candidate Joe Biden rejected the movement," they said.

"And his 2022 budget requested an increase of $304 million for police to build ties within the communities they patrol."

In other news

Following the assasination of Haitian president Jovenel Moise, fact checking organisations have faced a slew of misinformation surrounding the circumstances of his death.

Fact checkers at Reuters and the Associated Press, for instance, found that a photo shared widely online and purporting to show Mr Moise's body, in fact, depicted Haitian attorney Monferrier Dorval, who was killed outside his home on August 28, 2020.

AFP Fact Check, meanwhile, was quick to debunk rumours that the Haitian First Lady had also died in the attack; she was seriously wounded but survived.

Finally, across two fact checks, PolitiFact found that former US president Donald Trump had not congratulated US Navy SEALs on executing a "perfect beautiful whack" on Mr Moise, nor was there any evidence that the Haitian president's death came after his government "refused" COVID-19 vaccines.

Graphic of the week

With Sydneysiders locked down and facing more weeks isolating, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has conceded that a dramatic fall in the number of positive cases active within the community during their infectious period is necessary for restrictions to be eased.

This chart, produced by volunteers at using information provided in news conferences and media releases, shows how the proportion of cases who were in quarantine while infectious versus those who were out in the community has begun to shift.

Got a fact that needs checking? Tweet us @ABCFactCheck or send us an email at

This newsletter is supported by funding from the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas and the International Fact-Checking Network.
For all our fact checks and fact files in one place, and to receive COVID-19 news alerts, download the ABC News app here.
RMIT ABC Fact Check is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network. We thank other signatories for allowing us to share their work.
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