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Friday, July 2, 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,

In this week's edition of CoronaCheck, we explain why George Christensen's Facebook posts about Singapore's plan to treat COVID-19 like the flu are jumping the gun.

We also look at a viral image purporting to show World Health Organisation advice about vaccines and children, and fact check Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on wages growth.

George Christensen overreaches on Singapore's road map to a new normal

ABC News: Matt Roberts

Federal Nationals MP George Christensen took to Facebook this week to praise "sensible Singapore" for its intention to move away from a goal of zero COVID-19 transmission and to begin treating the disease like other endemic illnesses such as the flu.

According to Mr Christensen, the move, which would involve quarantine being "dumped for travellers", non-compulsory isolation for close contacts of cases and no more daily announcements of case numbers, represented an "end to the pandemic madness".

"Australia and every other nation will eventually have to get to this point when they realise that governments can easily eradicate freedoms but actually can't eradicate a virus."

But Mr Christensen has clearly jumped the gun, with his Facebook post ignoring some key qualifications.

First, Singapore has yet to set a date for implementing the measures. 

In an opinion piece published in The Straits Times, Singapore's ministers for health, finance, and trade and industry (who are the co-chairs of the city-state's COVID-19 governmental task force) foreshadowed the new strategy, but did not offer a definitive timeline.

"We are drawing up a road map to transit to this new normal, in tandem with the achievement of our vaccination milestones, though we know the battle against COVID-19 will continue to be fraught with uncertainty," the ministers said.

"In the meantime, we still need to take the necessary precautions and safeguards, to keep infections and hospitalisations at bay."

Singapore's road map also relies on it hitting vaccination targets, including sustaining a "comprehensive, multi-year vaccination program", improvements to rapid testing capabilities, and developing new and effective treatments for COVID-19.

The ministers further noted that being able to live with COVID-19 would depend on "Singaporeans' acceptance that COVID-19 will be endemic and [on] our collective behaviour".

As of June 29, Singapore had fully vaccinated 36 per cent of its population (2.09 million people) while a further 20 per cent (1.18 million) were partly vaccinated. According to the ministers' opinion piece, the city-state aimed to have two-thirds of the population partly vaccinated by early July and fully vaccinated by early August.

Australia, by comparison, has fully vaccinated 5.8 per cent of its population (1.48 million people) and partly vaccinated a further 17.7 per cent (4.55 million) people).

WHO vaccine advice for children taken out of context


Anti-vaccination groups on social media are sharing old advice issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as evidence that it is unsafe for children to be vaccinated. 

Screenshots of the outdated WHO guidance stating that "children should not be vaccinated for the moment" have been shared widely online, prompting a wave of speculation about the WHO's motivations and misinformation regarding child vaccination. 

In some variations of the post, the screenshot of the WHO advice has been cropped, thereby removing the words "for the moment".

Some users have further claimed that the advice represents a recent revision of official WHO policy.

But the posts don't capture the full story. 

It is correct that the WHO did change its official advice regarding the vaccination of children against COVID-19 on June 22, replacing its recommendation that children should not be vaccinated against COVID-19 with advice that it was less urgent to vaccinate children than older people.

In a statement to PolitiFact, the WHO said the change came after its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts concluded that the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine was suitable for use by people aged 12 and older. 

The public health organisation's chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, explained in a June 11 video that the advice in part reflected the limited supply of vaccinations available globally. 

"So, the reason … WHO is saying that vaccinating children is not a priority is because children, though they can get infected with COVID-19 and they can transmit the infection to others, they are at much lower risk of getting severe disease compared to older adults," Dr Swaminathan said. 

"Except for very few children who are at a high risk, it is not considered to be a high priority right now because we have limited doses of vaccines, we need to use them to protect the most vulnerable."

The WHO said it would continue to update its recommendations "when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy".

At this stage, Australia's medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has not approved either Pfizer or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for use in children.

According to an article written by three Australian pediatricians and published by the Conversation, clinical trials have shown the use of the Pfizer vaccine on the age group is well tolerated and effective.

Pfizer has been approved for children over 12 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and by Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency

Recent clinical trials have also shown the Moderna vaccine, the other mRNA vaccine Australia has signed up for, to be highly effective in teenagers.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also being trialled in children as young as six months. 

Children under 16 are due to be vaccinated in phase 3 of Australia's COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

From the U.S.

Conspiracy theories linking the death of commercial antivirus software pioneer John McAfee to the collapse of an apartment building in Florida have been debunked by US fact checkers.

Mr McAfee died by suicide in a Spanish prison last week after being arrested in October 2020 on tax evasion charges; the Miami beachfront building collapsed a day later.

According to conspiracy theorists, however, Mr McAfee's death was not intentional but rather part of a larger cover-up involving Democrats, celebrities and an underground child sex-trafficking ring of the QAnon variety.

Adding to the intrigue were claims that Mr McAfee had tweeted that he had stored hard drives full of files in his condo at the collapsed building, tweets that were apparently captured in screenshots shared to Instagram.

But fact checkers at PolitiFactUSA Today and Lead Stories all found that the image was fabricated, and that there was no evidence that Mr McAfee owned an apartment in the decimated building.

"Records show McAfee did not own a property at Champlain Towers South Condo," USA Today reported.

"McAfee did not publish the tweet cited in the Instagram post.

"Authorities have not determined a cause for the collapse, but they have said there is no evidence of foul play."

In other news

Anthony Albanese says Australia's real wages have 'flatlined' for eight years. Is he correct?

AAP: Mick Tsikas

After being overly optimistic with its wage forecasts for years, Federal Treasury is now, according to Labor, predicting that real wages will fall.

In his budget reply speech, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Treasury was offering a "low-wage future" and that he believed Australia could do better.

"So much better than real wages declining over the next four years after flatlining over the last eight years," he said.

Fact Check this week found that claim to be close to the mark.

Over the eight years to December 2020, real wages — that is, wages adjusted for the impact of inflation — grew by 3.1 per cent, representing an annual average growth rate of about 0.4 per cent.

Whether this can be characterised as "flatlining" is somewhat subjective: over the eight-year period, wages growth has not been constant, with relatively solid growth in some years and weak or negative growth in others.

However, by recent historical standards, average growth has clearly been low.

For example, wages grew at more than double the annual average pace (0.9 per cent) over the 12 years leading up to December 2012.

And according to the predictions in the May 11 federal budget, real wages will be slightly lower in 2024-25 than in the December quarter of 2020, the latest data available when Mr Albanese made his claim.

This finding is consistent with Mr Albanese's claim that real wages will fall over the next four years, although the fall is forecast to be small. 

Graphic of the week

As Australian states imposed the most widespread lockdown measures since the early days of the pandemic, this graph (click through for full size) comparing Australia's vaccine rollout to other OECD nations went viral online.

Drawn from statistics compiled by Our World in Data, the graph puts Australia dead last for its share of the population that is fully vaccinated.

A version of the graph was even tweeted by former Coalition treasurer Joe Hockey alongside a caption which read "says it all", before being swiftly deleted.

Editor's note
Following publication of last week's newsletter, in which we reported on a TikTok video containing misinformation, a spokeswoman for TikTok issued Fact Check with the following statement:

"Our Community Guidelines make it clear that we do not permit misinformation that causes harm to individuals, our community, or the larger public, including medical misinformation. A further review of this video has found it to be in breach of our policies and it has been removed and the account banned."
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.
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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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