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Fact Check-Public Health England did not ‘admit’ that COVID-19 is not contagious

An article shared online says Public Health England (PHE) has admitted in a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that it cannot scientifically prove the novel coronavirus can be transmitted person-to-person. This is not true.

The article headline reads: “Bombshell! Public Health England Admits It Cannot Scientifically Prove That COVID-19 Is Contagious” (here), and has been spread across social media in a screenshot (here).

In the article itself, taken from an online blog (humansarefree.com/), the author details an FOI request sent to PHE that asks for information “relating to experimental evidence demonstrating that COVID-19 is person-to-person transmissible”. The agency is then quoted as saying in response: “PHE can confirm it does not hold information in the way specified by your request.” A verbatim interaction can be seen (here).

According to the article, the PHE response is evidence that “no specific investigation” has been conducted into whether COVID-19 transmits from person-to-person. However, this is not true - and the article appears to be a misunderstanding of the level of information FOI requests can gain.

The Freedom of Information Act allows people to access records held by public bodies, including government agencies like PHE (here). These records can only be given if PHE holds them in the first place.

While PHE itself may not have information to release in response to the FOI request, the transmissibility of COVID-19 has been extensively studied and documented elsewhere (here), (here), (here), (here).

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, is spread very easily, mainly by close contact between people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (here). The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, explains on its website (here) that evidence points to the virus spreading mostly by respiratory droplets between people in close contact.

VERDICT

False. PHE did not have information related to the FOI request; however, this does not mean such research is lacking. The transmissibility of COVID-19 has been studied extensively and evidence suggests it is spread via respiratory droplets.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.

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