Why do some believe coronavirus is a hoax and what do Wales’ public health experts think of the conspiracy theories?

Coronavirus has killed more than a million people around the world and the race for a vaccine is underway, but as cases continue to rise, so do the number of protests against the restrictive measures.

Anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown campaigners have held a series of demonstrations across the UK in recent months, despite health experts warning against mass gatherings. 

A protest organised by Stop the New Normal in Cardiff Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

These protests aren’t exclusive to big cities like London as a wave of support is reaching all parts of Wales, with demonstrations already held in Swansea, Cardiff and Llandudno. 

Placards and signs at the protests read, “Unmask the truth” and “Covid is a hoax” but Professor Gwyneth Davies from Swansea University told Y Byd ar Bedwar programme she thinks it’s a dangerous message.

Dr Gwyneth Davies says winter is going to be even more difficult this year. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

“I can’t understand it all. As someone who works in the hospital, I see people coming in suffering and dying of Covid, it doesn’t make sense at all. The evidence is out there that more than a million people have died from Covid so I don’t know what to say to them.”“A vaccine has been through many trials to prove it’s safe. Researchers use a virus that’s safe, not coronavirus, but a virus that’s safe for people. It’s inactivated so it’s not live which means it can’t infect our cells, so it’s much safer."

According to a recent YouGov poll 65% of adults in Britain said they would get a vaccine when one becomes available, with 14% opting not to and more than a fifth (21%) of people unsure of whether they would have a vaccine, or not. It comes after record 44 new Covid-19 related deaths have been recorded by Public Health Wales.

Richard Hughes thinks social distancing and the need to wear a mask is restricting his freedom. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Richard Hughes, from Ystalyfera, has become one of the familiar faces at protests across the UK believing the virus is a hoax. He says social distancing and the need to wear a mask is restricting his freedom. "

“They say we’re far right but you look at the crowd and there’s all sorts here. We’ve come together because we can see what’s happening. Not everyone here is a conspiracy nut, there are doctors and nurses here too.”

Richard initially believed the virus did exist, and was concerned for the safety of his family, but he says his opinion on the virus changed when he saw nurses posting morale-boosting videos online. Richard’s beliefs have caused tension within his own family, as his mum is a retired nurse and his sister works on a Covid-19 ward. 

“Like everyone else, I was petrified and then I started seeing the nurses dancing on TikTok. I’ve got nothing against nurses, I’m from a nursing family...People dancing on the wards and sharing on Facebook is unprofessional. In the middle of a pandemic this was used to give nurses attention."

He added: “A lot of the nurses are brainwashed and medical staff are brainwashed. Some want to come forward to say things, but they’re scared, so this goes on.”

“Questions need to be asked of people otherwise we’re going to lose everything. Democracy is going to go out the window, the trust in the NHS, everything is going to go out the window unless we don’t start asking the right questions.”

“You don’t close the economy down and destroy people’s businesses and then let the councils close businesses down because they’re not keeping to social distancing measures, which are absolutely ridiculous. It’s all done through fear.”

The First Minister has urged people to bring the virus back under control by following scientific advice and has already addressed the rising spread of misinformation calling Covid a 'hoax'.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said it’s “vitally important” people in Wales follow the advice of highly qualified scientific and public health experts.

“Coronavirus is real – it is an international public health crisis that has resulted in more than 1 million deaths worldwide, and sadly, this number is growing on a daily basis. It’s vitally important people in Wales and elsewhere take the advice of highly qualified scientific and public health experts about the measures we all need to take to tackle coronavirus, and not listen to uninformed sources.

“As the First Minister has said, to beat Coronavirus, we need everyone’s help. Wales has shown throughout this pandemic that we can come together and take the actions to keep our families and our communities safe. We must come together once again to stay ahead of this virus and to save lives.”

Sophie Flear caught coronavirus while working as a mental health nurse.

Sophie Flear from Carmarthenshire is a mental health nurse and is all too familiar with the impact of coronavirus after testing positive in April. 

“I caught it whilst working on the front line, my colleagues went off sick with symptoms first then around five days later, I was on shift when I lost my taste and smell and then it was a roller coaster after that. I had a fever, sore throat, rash over my hands, pains over my body, a bad stomach and my heart rate would shoot up to 140bpm at times.  I’ve never experienced anything like it before. It’s important to emphasise that it affects you mentally as well as physically. Every day I’d wake up thinking ‘what’s ahead of me today’.”

Sophie Flear says she's never experienced anything like the coronavirus symptoms before. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Sophie says she’s worried about people spreading fake news and finds people who say Covid doesn’t exist, frustrating. 

“I’ve seen people on social media say Covid is a hoax, and you won’t see me wear a mask in the supermarket.”

“I do think these people are quite ignorant to what’s happening in NHS wards in other settings, care homes.They haven’t dealt with Covid patients themselves. They haven’t seen how sick they get. They haven’t seen their colleagues dying of Covid.”

The latest firebreak lockdown measures by the Welsh Government is to prevent the spread of the virus and to help regain control. It includes a series of strict measures, which are in force until Monday 9 November 2020.

The research also suggests that those wanting to avoid a vaccine are more distrustful of the media, government, and healthcare professionals.

You can see more on the story on Y Byd ar Bedwar, tonight at 8.25pm on S4C or catch up online. The programme has English subtitles.