A new Coronavirus conspiracy theory was launched by Tucker Carlson on Fox News a few days ago. You may have seen the clip in which Tucker plays a snippet of a World Health Organization official who says, in Tucker’s words, “in response to the spread of this virus authorities may have to enter people’s homes and remove family members, presumably by force.”
The clip is genuine. It is Tucker’s characterization of it that is false.
The WHO official in question is Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, and the clip was from a March 30 briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva. Carlson plays about 30 seconds of an answer from Dr. Ryan, but the entire transcript of the briefing is available on the internet here.
In Carlson’s clip, Dr. Ryan says, “In most parts of the world, due to lockdown, most of the transmission that’s actually happening in many countries now is happening in the household at family level. In some senses, transmission has been taken off the streets and pushed back into family units. Now, we need to go and look in families to find those people who may be sick and remove them and isolate them in a safe and dignified manner.”
Frowning at the camera, Tucker offers his translation, saying, “Just so you know, we’re coming to your house, seizing your children, and, quote, isolating them in a safe and dignified manner.”
As many conspiracy theorists are wont to do, Tucker takes a soundbite out of context, changes the meaning to suit his own ends, and emerges with something totally different from what was originally said. In other words, Tucker is lying.
Here is Dr. Ryan’s statement in context (remember that if you want the full context, you can read the entire transcript of the briefing):
So yes, we need the information technology tools. They help. They are not the solution. Right now, we don’t have an alternative to what we would’ve considered in the old days. boot-leather epidemiology. Public health practitioners, doctors, nurses, community workers, working with communities to detect cases at community level. And the most likely person to become a case is someone who’s been a significant contact of another case.
And at the moment, in most parts of the world, due to lockdown, most of the transmission that’s actually happening in many countries now is happening in the household at family level. In some senses, transmission has been taken off the streets and pushed back into family units. Now, we need to go and look in families to find those people who may be sick and remove them and isolate them in a safe and dignified manner.
That’s what I was saying previously about the, the, the transition from movement restrictions and shutdowns and stay-at-home orders can only be made if we have in place the means to be able to detect suspect cases, isolate confirmed cases, track contacts, and follow up on the context health at all times, and then isolate any of those people who become sick themselves.
Note that Tucker’s incendiary claims of health authorities using “force” and “seizing” children are entirely absent from Dr. Ryan’s comments.
Instead, Ryan is saying something completely different from what Carlson alleges. He’s talking about removing people who are sick and isolating them so that they don’t infect their family members. This would presumably be done voluntarily in a hospital since most people would not want to make people they love sick with a deadly virus. Ryan never implies anything else.
Ryan also never mentions force and he doesn’t single out children. Those terms exist only in Tucker Carlson’s paranoid delusions. Presumably, Carlson thinks that the family members will be trucked off to FEMA concentration camps or abandoned Walmarts for re-education, but he doesn’t say.
Tucker Carlson’s fearmongering is particularly dishonest because he is a Trump supporter. Does he think that President Trump is going to allow the World Health Organization to come into the United States and start kicking down doors and ripping families apart? If he really believes this, why is he supporting Donald Trump?
At this point, I have several acquaintances who are suspected of having COVID-19 but who have not been diagnosed due to lack of tests. In almost all cases, they were told to stay home unless they have trouble breathing. This is consistent with CDC guidelines and is part of an attempt to avoid overwhelming hospitals.
However, if infected people stay home, there is a risk that their family members will become infected, as Dr. Ryan points out. As the curve of cases flattens and decreases, it will become more feasible to isolate Coronavirus patients in hospitals, where they can be treated quickly, and avoid infecting others, rather than keeping them at home. This is a good thing. When it happens it will mean that there are few enough COVID-19 patients that they are being treated like typical victims of an infectious disease. Going to the hospital is standard procedure when hospitals are not overloaded beyond their capacity.
Tucker Carlson’s warning against the WHO is a blatantly dishonest attempt at pot-stirring in the midst of a real national crisis. If he doesn’t know his accusations are garbage, he should.
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