The coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied by a massive wave of false and misleading information due to attempts by foreign actors to influence public health in this country.

Misleading healthcare information, dangerous hoaxes with false claims conspiracy theories and consumer fraud endanger public health. Some might ask why the UK Defence Journal is publishing this, it is my belief that disinformation designed to hurt public health is a serious national concern.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Russia’s disinformation ecosystem has waged a comprehensive operation against various Western targets.

Both the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the EU’s External Action Service have identified a myriad of stories in pro-Kremlin media and social accounts that have sought to discredit the policies and performance of the Western democracies while painting Russian actions in a most positive light.

According to the State Department, during the pandemic, “the full Russian ecosystem of official state media, proxy news sites, and social media personas have been pushing multiple disinformation narratives”.

These narratives have aimed to validate the Kremlin’s standard talking points about the alleged fragility of the US-led liberal rules-based international order, the benefits of national autonomy, and the ineffectiveness of democratic regimes and institutions.

US officials also say that Russian intelligence services are using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, including claiming hospitals are empty and that vaccines do not work.

Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort reaching American and western audiences, US government officials said. They spoke to the Associated Press here.

You can read more about this in a paper called ‘Assessing the Russian Disinformation Campaign During COVID-19‘, this article is going to look at one of the practical effects.

What’s happening?

The pandemic has seen a recurring assertion in mainstream and social media that hospitals are empty. The implication with this is that earlier concerns about hospitals being overwhelmed were exaggerated or that clinical staff are workshy, while managers are incompetent or complacent about patients without covid-19 awaiting treatment.

The DailyTelegraph reported recently that hospitals were “eerily quiet” and “literally half empty.” If you work in acute general hospitals it’s hard to read this stuff and not get upset. Members of the public then engage in frustration with doctors, asking us to explain or defend this fake news.

Many hospitals around the country have been targeted for filming over the last few weeks. In some cases, those taking the videos appear to have gone unchallenged but others have led to hospitals and police taking action.

This brings us on to a perfect example of this behaviour.

Recently, a person entered the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow to video what she believes to be a COVID19 conspiracy, only, she has filmed areas that do not treat COVID19 patients.

So, what do we have? Allison Leitch has entered into areas that do not accept walk in coronavirus patients to lament the fact that there are no walk in coronavirus patients.

We have uploaded a copy of this video to show you but the original can be found here. The video is captioned “QEUH… NO OVERSTRETCHED HOSPITAL HERE” despite the fact that the poster has entered a public lobby which is not somewhere patients are treated.

It’s your usual ‘walk in and video empty areas and claim it’s a hoax’ style nonsense. The next video, captioned “No big drama in ambulance bays, just IDLE EMPTY AMBULANCES” is also a bit odd.

We have also uploaded a copy of this video to show you above but the original can be found here.

The user claims she has “photographs from two years ago“, we aren’t sure of the relevance of this point. Perhaps she means that less people can be seen now compared to them but this would imply she has no idea over current guidelines on patients and their admittance to the hospital.

Surely people realise that patients aren’t treated in the street or in corridors for Coronavirus?

There’s also a video taken inside the Accident and Emergency department, for some reason.

I asked Allison what she was expecting to see when she walked into the hospital:

“I’m not expecting anything. I’m just showing folks there’s no queues of ambulances treating patients outside coz they can’t get into the hospital, yi know, like they’re telling folks who watch the propaganda every day on that telly. I’m baffled at the fact people still believe this is about a virus. I had to be forced to go to the hospital last week and many people are going to lose their lives coz they didn’t want to overwhelm the NHS, or risk catching a virus with a 99.6% survival rate.

I need a holiday, some sunshine and a hand to get some sensible people together to try and put some support in place for our community. The current situation is dire, nobody’s coming to fix this for us. Democracy is DEAD, unless we unite right now and fight for it. We are Scotland… The cowards, who can see exactly how we are being treated by the people we’ve trusted to protect and promote our amazing wee country.

Oh the big boys club… I hate bullies. I don’t want to be ranting here George, but I want you to know that I try to be respectful to everyone, but at my age I’m at a stage where I’ve had enough of this and I’m going to do my best to try to bring fun and hope back into people’s lives. God knows we need it. If you’re up for bringing your bit to the table and see what we can all come up with then please let us know. If everybody just done their wee bit the results could be outstanding. If good loyal people stand united we’ll never look back. Treat people the way you want treated yourself.. Its not hard eh? I m passionate about saving Netherton community centre.”

The rant continued, my ability to listen did not.

Why do hospitals seem empty?

Many hospitals seem somewhat empty due to a number of reasons such as the stopping of most non-urgent care to create bed capacity, the stopping of visiting which accounts for a huge drop in footfall and of course the closing of most outpatient services.

There have been videos taken of dozens of locations and some have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, many appearing to show proof of empty hospitals but that’s not really how hospitals work. The number of Covid patients has increased significantly in recent weeks and there are serious concerns about the NHS’s ability to cope with the surge.

However, as pointed out above, because of the way healthcare trusts have reorganised hospitals, often separating Covid patients from others, and cancelling non-urgent care to free up capacity, some parts of hospital buildings will currently look empty.
That doesn’t mean hospitals aren’t busy.

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Rich

As you say, it really is just an organisation thing. Finite number of staff, reduced by sickness, means services are really concentrated in certain areas. No visitors, minimal out patients activity also contribute to the “ghost areas” within a large hospital. Needless to say, the Covid, cardiac and other acute care wards are not places you can just wander into with a camera! These are very much hives of activity. While in my part of the UK we have not had to queue in ambulances on arrival, the A&E department itself has been very busy. A lot of the activity… Read more »

Nscnick

It could also be added that many of the staff are elsewhere running new community vaccination centres or increaing the staffing in the critical care wards! People like the above should be taken to where the real action is and then let them see for themselves. These rumour mongers have to be brought to account and ot just permitted to spout their ridiculous nonsense. Everytime they pop up they need to be challenged and not just permitted to spread their nonsense without action and rebuttal.

Heidfirst

The QEUH is massive (largest hospital campus in Europe) but it’s also unusual in that all of it’s beds are in individual rooms & no rooms with multiple beds. Because of these once you get away from the entrance space (& I presume A&E intake) it looks surprisingly empty even in normal times .

G Hanson

“99.6% survival rate” is because of Lock-down, ICL research estimated that without lock-down during deaths from the first wave alone would be 470,000. Its ill informed people like this who don’t understand basic common sense who put people at risk. I work in a large Trust formerly in ICU environments and hospitals themselves are locked down to stop the spread of the virus with corridors being a great way to concentrate the virus and then funnel people through it. The only way out of this is the vaccine and closing our borders to avoid new resistant strains gaining a foot… Read more »