ZdG Debunks Fake News Around COVID-19

ZdG Debunks Fake News Around COVID-19

In recent weeks, fake news has spread on social media platforms and sparked heated debates over the deaths provoked by COVID-19.

The statements claimed that relatives of people who have died of various diseases received money after they signed documents stating that the death was caused by the new type of coronavirus.

The rumors feature doctors or policemen as those who make the alleged proposals. ZdG investigated these rumors and concluded that all of them are fake news aiming to foment people against the authorities, the healthcare workers, and the policemen, eroding the trust in basic social structures.

On May 30, 2020, priest Sergiu Ivanov, a pastor of the Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Vărzărești, Nisporeni district, the center of Moldova, announced on Facebook that he spoke with the nephew of Alexandru Fărâmă, an 87-year-old man who died recently. The priest claimed that the man’s nephew told him that two police officers, who had come to ascertain the man’s death, had offered him money so that in the ascertaining documents it would be written that he had died due to the new type of coronavirus. According to the priest, the policemen would’ve offered to give to the Alexandru Fărâmă’s nephew around 15,000-20,000 lei (700-1,000 euros). 

Priest Sergiu Ivanov

The story told by the priest Sergiu Ivanov was seen by 38,000 people on Facebook, and later it was taken over by other Internet users with tens of thousands of followers on social networks. Sergiu Postică, the owner of a restaurant near the capital, also spread the message of the priest. Postică has over 35,000 followers on Facebook.

Postică also came up with new details, telling the public that he would know of other cases when the relatives of some deceased people were offered money so that they could sign documents stating that the death was caused by the new type of coronavirus.

Sergiu Postică

The video published by Postică gathered almost a million views but was later deleted by the author. In the video, Postică claims that in two of the cases he knows that the relatives of the deceased person accepted between 100 and 200 euros (2,000 and 4,000 lei).

The residents of the Vărzărești village heard the story told by the priest Sergiu Ivanov. Although they do not know details, almost everyone says that they heard that the Fărâmă family was offered money to indicated in the documents that the old man Alexandru Fărâmă died of COVID-19.

The villagers from Vărzărești tell ZdG reporters about the rumors in the village related to the priest’s statements and the death of Alexandru Fărâmă

The case of the Fărâmă family from Vărzărești was highly mediatized. However, no member of the family was ever asked whether the information disseminated by the priest was true or not.

ZdG followed the story and tried to find out more details, analyzing the story from the perspective of those concerned. The mayor of the Vărzărești village guided us, and we arrived at the Fărâmă family, from Vărzărești village, Nisporeni district, the center of Moldova.

ZdG spoke with the wife of the deceased man and asked her about her husband’s death. She told ZdG that she called the police to confirm the death. After the police came, they asked her why her husband died and she told them that her husband was paralyzed for a while and died. 

We’ve asked her if someone offered her money to say that her husband died of COVID-19. But she told us that no one proposed her such a thing, adding that she doesn’t even need such a thing. We’ve asked her to describe to us what the policemen did after they arrived at her house. And she told us that they wrote how they found her husband and also wrote how quickly he died. 

Alexandru Fărâmă’s wife. Vărzărești, Nisporeni

Fiodor Fărâmă, one of the deceased’s sons and Vasile Paladi, who is the son-in-law of the deceased man, denied that there were ever discussions about money.

Fiodor Fărâmă stated that no one proposed money to him and that there was no such thing. He stated that the police warned him to respect the norms and hold a small funeral, with a small number of people in order to avoid a fine. 

Fiodor Fărâmă, son of the deceased Alexandru Fărâmă. Vărzărești, Nisporeni

Vasile Paladi, the son-in-law of the deceased man, also denies any discussion about money when his father-in-law died. He told us that a policeman and a policewoman came to the house of his father-in-law and took photos in the house, outside, and then wrote the document. The police asked what should they write in the death certificate and the nephew of the deceased man said to the police to write that Alexandru Fărâmă died of old age.

We asked Vasile Paladi what did the nephew of the deceased man tell to the priest, and Paladi told us that the nephew of the deceased man only discussed the funeral with the priest.   

Vasile Paladi, son-in-law of Alexandru Fărâmă. Vărzărești, Nisporeni

Constantin, the nephew of the deceased man, mentioned in the speech of the priest Sergiu Ivanov, was at work. We talked to him on the phone and asked him to describe how the meeting with the priest went.

Constantin described us in detail the meeting with the priest Sergiu Ivanov. Constantin said that he discussed the funeral. He also mentioned that the priest asked him if the police didn’t offer money to write on Alexandru Fărâmă’s death certificate that he died of coronavirus. Constantin stated that he said no, telling the priest that he didn’t receive such a proposal. According to Constantin, the priest told him that he will make a post, but Constantin didn’t understand what exactly the priest meant so Constantin agreed.  

ZdG reporter talking on the phone with the deceased’s nephew, Constantin, whose name was mentioned by priest Sergiu Ivanov in his live on Facebook

The young man states that he does not understand why the priest spread such a story and denies that he was scared by the police, as the priest stated.

Constantin told us that later the priest came to him asking him to go to the Prosecutor General and tell everything. Constantin told the priest that he has nothing to tell and that no one proposed money to him and no one threatened him. 

Constantin also stated that he doesn’t know what the priest wants to achieve. However, Constantin concluded that based on his Facebook posts maybe the priest is trying to prove that the virus is a forgery.

Constantin Ungureanu, the mayor of Vărzărești commune from Nisporeni district together with the relatives of Alexandru Fărâmă, the man who died

The mayor of Vărzărești village claims that he talked to the members of the Fărâmă family a few days after Alexandru Fărâmă’s death. Even then they told him that the information spread by the priest did not correspond to the truth.

Constantin Ungureanu, the mayor of Vărzărești commune from Nisporeni district

Cristina Rizu is one of the two police officers who went to the Fărâmă family to confirm the death. We found her in the village of Grozești, Nisporeni district, the center of Moldova, on her day off. She told us that she went to the Fărâmă family and took pictures with the house and with the deceased person and then went to the Nisporeni Police Inspectorate. She mentioned that they discussed with the nephew of the deceased person about the funeral, explaining to him that it should be a small funeral with few people, respecting social distancing, and wearing masks. 

Cristina Rizu is one of the two police officers who went to the Fărâmă family to confirm the death.

She told ZdG that there were no discussions about offering money, adding that they have talked about the funeral. The officer stated that the relatives of the deceased person knew why Alexandru Fărâmă died and they signed the investigation papers. 

Employed for less than a year in the police, the young woman claims that she experienced a real shock after the priest’s accusations.

According to the statements of the priest from Vărzărești, Nisporeni Police Inspectorate initiated an investigation, accusing the priest for slander. 

Viorel Tican, deputy head of the Public Security Section within the Nisporeni Police Inspectorate, stated that the priest’s statements do not correspond with the statements of the relatives of the deceased man. Subsequently, the Police Inspectorate is investigating the priest’s statements based on the art. 70 of the Contravention Code – slander. 

Viorel Tican, deputy head of the Public Security Section within the Nisporeni Police Inspectorate

The representative of the Nisporeni Police Inspectorate claims that before accusing the police of proposing money to register Alexandru Fărâmă’s death in the list of people who died because of the COVID-19, priest Sergiu Ivanov was fined five times for non-compliance with the decisions of the Commission for Exceptional Situations. 

In a live on Facebook, published on June 13, the priest accused the police that it drawn the four summonings amounting to over 5,000 euros (100,000 lei), on June 1, after he had published the video in which he states that the police would’ve offered to the Fărâmă family money to write that Alexandru Fărâmă died of COVID-19.  

However, the officers claim that the priest knew beforehand about the committed violations, because he had been notified and summoned by phone.

Viorel Tican also mentioned that the priest performed rituals inside the church during all this period without respecting the conditions imposed by the National Commission for Emergency Situations. Tican said that the summonings were drawn up on the same day because the priest had been summoned, both by telephone and by registered summons at home, but he refused to come. Tican told us that the police sent the summonings to his home so he could contest them. 

However, priest Sergiu Ivanov maintained his statements even after they were opposed by the victim’s relatives. And the law enforcement authorities initiated a misdemeanor trial for slander against the priest.

The priest claimed that the relatives of the deceased person were scared by the police, adding that he asked the relatives of the deceased person if they are sure to let him publish the information and they agreed stating that they will support him (the priest). The priest claimed that there were other persons who heard the conversation. 

Another Story in Another Moldovan District

In the village of Ulmu, Ialoveni district, the center of Moldova, several villagers believe that Elisaveta Iordachie received money to agree to sign documents stating that her husband, Mihail, died because of COVID-19.

Elisaveta Iordachie from Ulmu village, Ialoveni

We’ve spoken with one of the residents of the Ulmu village, the resident claimed that someone proposed 100 euros to the relatives of the deceased person – Mihail. When we asked for more details about the person who told the resident this information, the resident, a young man, said that he doesn’t know. Another resident of the village also belives that Mihail didn’t die of COVID-19.    

The villagers believe that Mihail Iordachie would not have died from COVID-19 because Mihail, a 68-year-old man, went to Chișinău on the third day of Easter, with the local minibus. At the same time, he suffered from several chronic diseases, being dependent on dialysis for many years.

This time, due to diabetes, the man’s finger was to be amputated, a fact confirmed by Ecaterina Zaharovna, a nurse in the Ulmu village.

Ecaterina Zaharovna, nurse in Ulmu, Ialoveni

“He regularly goes on dialysis. He had problems with kidney failure. Mrs. Georgeta (the village doctor) sent him to the hospital. He was hospitalized and died there. He went on dialysis. He didn’t go because he was sick, because he had a fever, because he had symptoms – no. He went on dialysis,” points out the medical worker. 

Mihail Iordachie was hospitalized in the Holy Trinity Clinical Hospital in Chișinău, underwent surgery, and was discharged from hospital during the period when the institution was a real outbreak of COVID-19.

Before going home, the man stayed for a few days with one of his sons in Chișinău. The day he was going on dialysis, he had a fever. He was transported to the COVID-19 Center and tested positive for coronavirus. He was later transferred to the Republican Clinical Hospital, where he died six days after being hospitalized.

Both the wife of the deceased man and her daughter-in-law, who took the body from the hospital with her husband, claim that they do not understand who invented the rumors that they were paid so that Mihail Iordachie’s death cause be registered as COVID- 19. The family said that they paid everything including the transportation of the deceased to his hometown.

ZdG spoke with the wife of the deceased person who told us that she heard the rumors but she doesn’t know who spread them. She also stated that she received no money for her husband to be included in the list of those who died from COVID- 19. She told us that the villagers are saying that she would’ve received around 150 euros (3,000 lei). She denies the allegations. 

Natalia Burgoci, who is the daughter in law of the deceased man, told us in detail how she took her father-in-law from the hospital and transported him directly to the village cemetery, without anyone asking or proposing money. She also told us that the family knew that he got infected with the COVID-19 disease.  

The wife of the deceased man told us that no one gave her money, adding that the family paid for everything. She also mentioned that the family received a document for which they paid, and with that document, they went to the town hall to receive around 60 euros (1,100 lei) as material support. Subsequently, the only help that the Iordachie family benefited from was the 60 euros (1,100 lei) that the authorities offer to all the families in which a member dies, regardless of the cause of death. 

Andrei Uncuță is the director of the Republican Clinical Hospital, the hospital where Mihail Iordachie died. Uncuță claims that there are more patients who have the same chronic diseases as Mihail Iordachie. And in their cases, chronic diseases only make the virus worse and weaken the body.

Andrei Uncuța, director of the Republican Clinical Hospital

Uncuță told us that Mihail Iordachie was hospitalized with COVID pneumonia, and died after a few days from COVID pneumonia. Uncuță also added that COVID was also written on the death certificate. Uncuță states that the complications came from his lungs not his kidney disease. 

Uncuță states that when there are no other diseases the patient recovers slowly, but when there are other diseases the patient’s health condition becomes severe. Uncuță mentioned that the majority of patients who die in Moldova from COVID also have other diseases. 

COVID Deaths Fake News in a Village With no COVID Deaths

Information about alleged sums of money offered to relatives of deceased people so they will agree that the death cause was COVID-19 has flooded the information space in recent weeks. ZdG contacted dozens of people on social networks, who said they knew specific cases in which doctors paid money to relatives of a deceased person to declare the death cause of the deceased person COVID-19. However, subsequent discussions with these people showed a different reality than the one they spread on social networks. 

Some people told us that the stories they had heard were, in fact, from Russia, and others that they had heard from their neighbors or distant relatives, but could not provide us with specific data. Some people did not even respond to ZdG’s requests to discuss the subject, and others refused to provide details about the cases they claimed to know.

One of the messages shared on social networks directed us to the village of Talmaza, Ștefan Vodă district, the south of Moldova. However, there were no deaths caused by the new type of coronavirus in the village neither officially nor unofficially. The information was false from the beginning. 

The mayor of the village, Eugeniu Pruteanu, told us that the village has four cases but no death provoked by the new type of coronavirus. 

ZdG also checked the death of a 30-year-old girl from Cojușna village, Strășeni district, close to Chișinău. Her death was recorded on April 6. The young woman suffered from type I diabetes. The young woman’s relatives stated that they are not sure that she died of COVID because she was regularly hospitalized in a serious condition in recent years. However, they claim that on the seventh day of hospitalization (with three days prior to death) she was informed that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

The family rejected the rumors that they had been offered money to sign a death certificate that indicates COVID-19 as the cause of death. Although the family is not sure the young woman’s death was caused by COVID-19, the family confirmed that the coronavirus was included in the medical certificate issued by the hospital as one of the causes of death. 

The family claimed that they received no money and assured that they know about the 60 euros (1,100 lei) material help that is offered by the authorities to all the families in which a member died in Moldova, only that no one has been there yet to take their material support.

Sergiu Postică, the manager of a restaurant, stated that he knows other real cases when the relatives of some deceased would have had certain benefits if they accepted that the deceased be passed as a death caused by COVID.

Capture from a video published by Sergiu Postică on June 11, which quickly spread on Facebook and soon gathered almost a million views. The author later decided to delete the post

Contacted by ZdG to find out details about these cases, Postică referred to the comments that internet users have placed on social networks which we have already checked, but also to the statements of a man he filmed with a hidden camera The man, who was filmed with a hidden camera, allegedly stated that his family would have benefited from the compensation of his father’s funeral expenses, after accepting that the reason of the death was COVID-19. 

ZdG found the man and talked to Andrei C., the man who appears in the images filmed with the hidden camera. However, he says that he did not receive money as a result of the death of his 87-year-old father and that no one asked him to sign any document. He stated that he received a material help of around 50 euros (1,000 lei), but added that everyone receives this material help when one of their close relatives dies. 

State Aid for Death, Regardless of the Cause of Death

The state does not provide assistance to people who die after they become infected with COVID-19. Officially, the family in which a person died, regardless of the cause of death, receives from the state, from the budget of the National Social Insurance House, around 60 euros (1,100 lei). At the same time, in some regions, the local public administration may allocate certain aid, regardless of the cause of death.

Even in the burial process, people who die after being infected with COVID-19 do not benefit from facilities, as is conveyed in several messages distributed on social networks. At the same time, the undertakings providing the funeral services have no involvement in establishing the cause of death from the deceased’s documents.

The director of the Funeral Services company, Ludmila Boțan, told us that the doctor issues the medical certificate and the civil status office issues the death certificate. The Funeral Services company doesn’t have anything to do with the death certificate.

Ludmila Boțan, director of the Funeral Services

Boțan mentions that people have to pay for the services offered by the company, adding that all the prices are set by the Chișinău Municipal Council. Whoever comes to organize the burial of the deceased person pays according to the company’s taxes. The cause of death doesn’t matter. The company works with everyone who addresses it, either from Moldova or foreign citizens. The company always takes care of the burials. No one was ever exempt from payment. There are the same rates for all. 

“How Can you Fake a Death if You Get a Positive Test at COVID?”

Medical institutions in Moldova are not funded depending on the number of people who die of COVID-19 or other diseases. Thus, there is no difference between a person who has died from complications caused by the new type of coronavirus and those caused by other diseases.

“There is no reasonable motivation to write COVID as the death cause of the person who has not died of COVID. Moreover, no health care worker is interested in increasing the number of deaths of people he or she cares for. There is no financial motivation or a performance motivation or some intrinsic motivation of the medical staff in assigning the status of deceased to a person who is not with COVID,” points out Svetlana Lupu, head of the Policy Department in the field of Hospital Health Care of Ministry of Health. 

The same is said by doctors, who state that it is impossible to forge the causes of death in circumstances where there is a single protocol on handling death cases, and medical institutions have no interest in recording more deaths caused by COVID.

Ala Condrea, the medical deputy director of the Clinical Hospital from Bălți, told us that falsifying a death is impossible because the person comes to the hospital already diagnosed with COVID-19 and with all the complications that are mentioned in the protocol of the evolution of the critical patient with COVID. 

“If the patient has not been confirmed by the laboratory, he cannot be written post-mortem or diagnosed with COVID. Each death certificate is issued by the forensic doctor. Based on the medical documentation presented in the forensic department. And once again, I want to repeat, it is absurd and I do not understand from where our population has such imagination and from where such statements come,” points out Andrei Stratulat, the interim director of Orhei District Hospital. 

Andrei Stratulat

COVID Special Program

Moldova does not receive assistance from the European Union or the World Health Organization depending on the number of deaths or cases of COVID-19 registered.

“We mention that the information that the country would be interested in having high numbers of deaths and confirmed cases in order to receive foreign aid, in the form of financial sources is false. In the fight against COVID-19, Moldova received humanitarian aid from donors, external partners, economic agents, such as medicines, equipment, and medical devices, which were redirected directly to medical institutions, as needed,” said the representatives of the Ministry of Health.

In support of claims that they would not be interested in any way in registering a large number of people who died due to COVID-19, hospital directors say that the institutions they run are funded depending on the number of cases treated, which is also the purpose of doctors, to treat patients.

There is such a program called – “COVID Special Program”. Apart from the cases contracted separately, simple, with the insurance company, the insurance company has a special section called “COVID Special Program”. The hospital reports a special COVID case, it is paid more expensive than the simple case,” explains Andrei Uncuță, the director of the Timofei Moșneaga Hospital.

“The hospital is financed on a contract basis and in each case treated separately, as provided by the regulation. It is the greatest stupidity and the greatest audacity to discuss that hospitals receive, I don’t know what, and what is being circulated. I want to tell you, on the contrary, the expenses that the hospital makes, starting with the most expensive value, this is the medical staff and the protective equipment, and ending with drugs and all the equipment necessary to save a patient “, points out Ala Condrea, from the Clinical Hospital in Bălți. 

Officials from the National Medical Insurance Company confirm that they finance only the cases treated, included in the contracts for the provision of medical services.

The Deputy General Manager of the Company, Denis Valac, states that the financing takes place through a separate line in the contract, which includes the cases of COVID. Respectively, when the institution registers patients with COVID, and subsequently they are discharged, the Company pays for each treated case. The company is also the one that finances the salary supplement granted to the staff involved in the fight against COVID.

He states that the institution verifies the information provided by hospitals on the cases dealt with and that there is no possibility of this information being defrauded. 

Denis Valac, deputy director at the National Medical Insurance Company

“The company knows about all the reported cases, who the person is, where the person is from and so on. The company has all the information. At the same time, within the company, there is a subdivision, namely the Evaluation and Monitoring Department, which develops evaluation and monitoring plans for the institutions. Respectively, this subdivision visits the medical institutions, picks up the hospitalization files, to verify the information that is reported to the company and in case of deviations are found, the institutions are either warned or penalized, depending on the severity of the deviation that was found in the medical institution,” the official states. 

The amount of funding for medical institutions for each case treated by COVID-19 varies from case to case and is determined by an index of complexity.

For example, at the Republican Clinical Hospital, where there are serious cases, obviously this cost is higher. There are institutions where this cost is lower. If we take on average, as previously mentioned, on average, a day-bed for a person in intensive care would cost, on average, 200 euros (5,000 lei), and a day-bed, on average, for a person who is hospitalized, for example, at Toma Ciorbă would be on average about 100 euros (2,000 lei). It all depends, as I said before, on the complexity of the case. If it is worse, it is more expensive, if it is less serious, it is cheaper,” explains the deputy director.

The Virus Exacerbates Chronic Diseases that Are in the Body

Over 400 people who died in Moldova after being tested positive for the new type of coronavirus also suffered from other chronic diseases. However, even with chronic diseases, some patients would still live if they did not become infected with COVID-19.

“The virus exacerbates chronic diseases that are in the body and it is a source for worsening the general condition of patients. Whether it’s high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic hepatitis with cirrhosis. The virus exacerbates all the chronic diseases that are in the patient, with all the comorbidities that are. We have patients who have hypertension, who have diabetes, chronic pyelonephritis, and hepatitis, which worsens and all parameters and indices in paraclinical investigations, which are laboratory, either biochemical or general analysis shows an aggravation of body’s organ activity,” explains Sergiu Vasilița, the interim director of the Clinical Hospital for Infectious Diseases Toma Ciorbă from Chișinău.

Experts, About Rumors and Fraud of the Number of COVID-19 Deaths

Ghenadie Țurcanu, expert at the Center for Health Policy and Analysis:

“I have not seen any confirmation that hospitals can falsify data related to COVID-19 diagnosis. The laboratory tests are not done in hospitals, but in completely other institutions, independent, such as the National Agency for Public Health or private laboratories. Thus, hospitals do not manage these cases on their own. I am referring to the confirmation of the diagnosis, to the repeated test, to the test until the discharge from the hospital, when it is already negative. I don’t think hospitals can do that and these are just rumors.”

Ala Tocarciuc, public health expert:

Ala Tocarciuc

“People usually become more vulnerable during a crisis. And in a moment of cognitive dissonance, some people, who are in denial, cling to different anchors that somehow help them survive in these times. These ideas were created artificially and were launched in the public space not only in Moldova but in many countries. The trust in the authorities is related to how the same authorities managed the pandemic. People do not trust the authorities and because of this, they do not respect many of the measures proposed or recommended by the authorities to protect people. There were no counter-messages. Somewhere we neglected the fight against falsehoods.”

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