The claim: Norway has reclassified the coronavirus as ‘no more dangerous than ordinary flu’
But across the Atlantic Ocean, according to some social media users, the coronavirus is not thought to be more deadly than a run-of-the-mill flu infection.
“Norway reclassifies Covid-19: No more dangerous than ordinary flu,” reads a headline in a screenshot shared to Facebook on Sept. 27.
The post accumulated more than 200,000 shares within three days. Similar claims have racked up thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
The source of the headline is a Sept. 23 article from a website called Free West Media, which describes itself as a source of news “from a western perspective.”
“Covid-19 is treated in the mass media as a very dangerous disease,” the article reads. “But in Norway, it has now been decided to treat it like other respiratory diseases, such as influenza or the cold virus, because according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health it is no longer more dangerous than these.”
That claim is misleading.
Norway has lifted its coronavirus restrictions amid widespread vaccination and a decrease in new daily cases. However, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has not reclassified the coronavirus as “no more dangerous than ordinary flu,” as other fact-checkers and media outlets have pointed out. That claim distorts comments from a public health official reported by a Norwegian tabloid.
USA TODAY reached out to Free West Media and the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.
Claim distorts Norwegian public health official’s comments
Norway’s top public health agency has not likened the danger of COVID-19 to that of the flu.
“It is not correct that the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has claimed that ‘Covid-19 is no more dangerous than ordinary flu,'” Line Vold, department director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said in a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
Vold said the claim in the Instagram post “is probably a misinterpretation” of an interview in Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper.
The headline of the Sept. 20 article, translated to English using Google Translate, says “we can now compare the coronavirus with the flu.” The newspaper cites comments attributed to Geir Bukholm, deputy director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
“We are now in a new phase where we must look at the coronavirus as one of several respiratory diseases with seasonal variation, says assistant director Geir Bukholm,” reads the translated article.
That does not mean “illness from coronavirus and the seasonal flu are similar,” Vold said in the statement sent to USA TODAY.
“Our position, as stated in the news article, is that at this point in the pandemic we must start approaching COVID-19 as one of several respiratory diseases circulating with seasonal variation,” she said. “This means that the control measures that will be applicable for various respiratory diseases will require the same level of societal preparedness.”
“Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19,” Johns Hopkins Medicine says on its website. “At present, it is thought to be substantially higher – possibly 10 times or more – than that of most strains of the flu.”
While there are some similarities between the viruses, COVID-19 “seems to spread more easily than flu” and can be contagious for a longer period of time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also “cause more serious illnesses in some people.”
“Serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization and death can occur even in healthy people,” the CDC says on its website.
Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that Norway has reclassified the coronavirus as “no more dangerous than ordinary flu.” Norway has indeed changed the way it approaches COVID-19, and a public health official said this means the disease will be handled similarly to other seasonal respiratory diseases. But the health agency did not say the danger is the same as the flu. Johns Hopkins estimates COVID-19 could be up to ten times more deadly.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, accessed Sept. 30, US COVID-19 map: Tracking cases and deaths
- The New York Times, Sept. 25, Norway lifts coronavirus restrictions after 561 days.
- CrowdTangle, accessed Sept. 30
- Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Sept. 30, Emailed statement from Geir Bukholm
- Reuters, accessed Sept. 30, COVID-19 Tracker: Norway
- USA TODAY, Dec. 17, Fact check: COVID-19 is far worse than the influenza outbreaks of 1976, as meme claims
- USA TODAY, Dec. 31, Fact check: Post claims COVID-19 is another flu strain, misattributed to Cornell professor
- USA TODAY, Oct. 6, Fact check: Satirical post falsely claims COVID-19 is no worse than the flu and affects virtually no one
- Google Translate, accessed Sept. 30
- Verdens Gang, Sept. 20, FHI: We can now compare the coronavirus with the flu
- Snopes, Sept. 30, Did Norway Reclassify COVID-19 as the Flu?
- Newsweek, Sept. 29, Fact Check: Did Norway Reclassify COVID As Flu?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Sept. 30, Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19
- USA TODAY, Aug. 20, 2020, Fact check: COVID-19 is deadlier than the 1918 Spanish flu and seasonal influenza
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, Sept. 28, COVID-19 vs. the Flu
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