No, the federal government’s COVID-19 app wasn’t behind TikTok ‘predictions’ of NSW case numbers | #socialmedia


CoronaCheck is RMIT ABC Fact Check’s weekly email newsletter dedicated to fighting the misinformation infodemic surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

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CoronaCheck #75

Mathematical formulas, secrets hidden in plain sight or leaks from government departments? This week, CoronaCheck gets to the bottom of how COVID-19 case figures were shared on TikTok hours before being officially announced.

We also look at debunked claims of “anti-sex” cardboard beds in the Olympic athletes village, and share a map from the Victorian government showing the reach of the highly infectious Delta variant.

‘Predicting’ COVID-19 case figures

After successfully “predicting” the number of NSW daily coronavirus cases for five days in a row, a TikTok user was reportedly fed incorrect figures by the state’s health authorities earlier this week in what some have described as a “sting”.

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Jon-Bernard Kairouz maintained tongue-in-cheek that his ability to accurately foreshadow the case numbers hours before their official release was a result of a complex mathematical equation involving the “diameter of Fairfield” and the “number of granny flats in south-west Sydney”.

On social media, however, rumours swirled that Mr Kairouz’s spot-on predictions could easily be made by anyone with a smartphone and the federal government’s Coronavirus Australia app, a theory backed by Daily Mail Australia.

According to the Daily Mail, updated case numbers were supposedly released on the app each night, and the only maths required involved “simply subtracting the previous day’s number from the new one”.

“Saturday night’s number of NSW [cases] was 6,942 compared to Friday’s 6,833 — meaning … 109 [new] cases, which was announced at 11am on Sunday.

“This is the same number Mr Kairouz ‘predicted’ on Saturday night — tellingly not long after 8pm when the Coronavirus Australia data is believed to drop.”

But that theory doesn’t stand up, even after accounting for errors made by the Daily Mail.

First, 105 — not 109 — new cases were predicted by Mr Kairouz on Saturday night and officially announced on Sunday morning. And the figures quoted by the Daily Mail were actually added by the Coronavirus Australia app on Saturday evening and Sunday evening, not Friday and Saturday.

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On Sunday night, Mr Kairouz predicted 109 new local cases would be announced on Monday. This was the same number reached when subtracting Saturday’s app figures from Sunday’s.

Mr Kairouz’s prediction, however, was incorrect: 98 new local cases for NSW were announced on Monday morning.

So, where did the 109 figure come from?

In the case of the app, it is simply the number of local cases announced on Sunday (105), plus the number of cases recorded in hotel quarantine on the same day (four).

Meanwhile, Mr Kairouz’s five-day streak of accurate predictions was brought to an end not by a mathematical blip, but rather a concerted effort by NSW Health to plug a leak.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters on Monday that the Health Department had “looked at the issues” around the leak, but denied a “sting” had been used to root out a leaker.

“It was a disappointment that on something as serious as our messaging to the community in a one-in-100-year pandemic, that clearly someone, somewhere in the system, was feeling the need to disclose those figures to somebody who was not an appropriate person to be making commentary about it.”

From Germany

A viral photo shared in the aftermath of widespread flooding across Germany and Belgium purporting to show a submerged car with a sticker critical of Greta Thurnberg was photoshopped, according to fact checkers.

The image, in which a sticker reading “F*** YOU GRETA” can be seen on a car stranded in flood waters, was shared widely via social media alongside captions pointing out the irony of a natural disaster destroying a car belonging to a climate change denier.

But as fact checkers at PolitiFact, Lead Stories, CNN and Snopes discovered, the photo was altered to include the sticker.

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“The original photo, taken in Germany by photographer David Young and published online by the German tabloid Bild, shows the partially submerged BMW but no windshield sticker,” CNN noted.

In other news

Olympic village beds ‘not designed to stop athletes getting physical’

Rumours that beds installed at the Tokyo Olympic Village were made purposefully flimsy in order to dissuade athletes from having sex have been, er, put to bed.

In one viral tweet, American track and field athlete Paul Chelimo wrote that the beds would be “made of cardboard” in an effort aimed at “avoiding intimacy among athletes”.

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“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports.”

But while athletes have been warned to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact”, the cardboard beds were not designed with that in mind.

According to Takashi Kitajima, the general manager of the village, the beds could withstand up to 200 kilograms and were stronger than wooden beds.

“The organising committee was thinking about recyclable items, and the bed was one of the ideas,” Mr Kitajima told the Associated Press.

In a video posted to Twitter, Irish athlete Rhys McClenaghan put one of the beds through its paces.

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“In today’s episode of fake news at the Olympic Games: the beds are meant to be anti-sex,” he reported, before jumping repeatedly up and down on the bed. “They’re made of cardboard, yes. Apparently they’re meant to break with any sudden movements. It’s fake news!”

Mr McClenaghan’s experiment was also endorsed by the official Olympics Twitter account, which thanked him for “debunking the myth”, before adding: “The sustainable cardboard beds are sturdy!”

Greg Hunt says nearly 90 per cent of people receive their GP services for free. Is he correct?

Following recent criticism levelled by doctors at the federal government’s decision to make changes to more than 900 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), Health Minister Greg Hunt sought to defend the government’s record, arguing that more Australians were being bulk-billed by their GP than under Labor.

“That has seen 88.7 per cent of people year-to-date receive their GP services for free,” he told reporters on June 6. “That is 6.7 per cent higher than when we came to government [in September, 2013].”

Fact Check this week found that claim to be over-egged.

While the share of patients who are bulk billed may be rising, Mr Hunt’s numbers relate to the proportion of GP services that were bulk billed, not the number of patients.

Patient numbers would be lower, as people may receive multiple medical services during a single visit to their GP, with only some patient visits being fully subsidised by the government.

As one expert explained, bulk billing is used more frequently by particular groups, so the rate for services could increase without necessarily benefiting additional people.

Medicare data for the first nine months of each financial year shows that between March 2013 and March 2021, the bulk-billing rate for services increased from 82.0 per cent to 88.7 per cent.

This equates to a rise of 8.2 per cent, or 6.7 percentage points.

While there is limited public data for the number of people who are bulk billed, there is some material available on the share of patients who were entirely bulk billed by their GP.

This rate has also been rising, although the available data runs only to 2018-19.

According to health department numbers, it grew by 5.2 percentage points, or 8.5 per cent, over roughly six years of Coalition government, to reach 66.3 per cent of patients in 2018-19.

Mr Hunt attributed the increase in services to Coalition policies, and there was indeed a surge in bulk billing after the government introduced telehealth items to the MBS as part of its response to the pandemic.

However, it’s less clear what credit the government could reasonably take for the years prior to 2020.

Under the Coalition, the bulk-billed services rate grew by progressively smaller amounts in every year from 2014. Between 2015 and 2019, the same can be said for the share of fully bulk-billed patients.

Experts consulted by Fact Check pointed to the government’s Medicare rebate freeze as a key reason for the slowdown in growth.

Edited by Ellen McCutchan

Got a fact that needs checking? Tweet us @ABCFactCheck or send us an email at factcheck@rmit.edu.au

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