December 2, 2021

Amid fears about the new omicron coronavirus variant, a claim is being shared on social media that news outlets are failing to report that, in fact, a doctor who discovered the variant says its symptoms are mild.

“The S African MD who first detected omicron, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, says its symptoms are ‘very mild.’ That story does not appear on any major news network in the US. Not CNN, Fox, CBS, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Newsmax, etc. (Only Reuters),” one Nov. 28 post says. “It’s almost like there’s an agenda.”

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

First we looked for that Reuters story.

On Nov. 28, the news organization reported that Dr. Angelique Coetzee of South Africa told Reuters that “she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit ‘very mild.’” Coetzee is credited as one of the first doctors to alert authorities about the new coronavirus strain.

CNN reported that day what Coetzee had told Reuters. Fox News cited an interview Coetzee gave the Telegraph, saying that the symptoms of the patients she had treated were “unusual but mild.” Newsmax also reported on the Telegraph story, saying that Coetzee treated people with symptoms of intense fatigue but no loss of taste or smell.

We didn’t find any news reports about Coetzee calling the omicron symptoms mild on the websites of MSNBC, ABC News or CBS News, but we found stories from Nov. 28 on the websites of local affiliates of ABC and CBS. And on “Face the Nation” on CBS on Nov. 28, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gotlieb said, “there’s some anecdotal information off of physicians in South Africa that this could be causing mild illness.” ABC News posted reports on its website the next day that South African doctors were seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases with “mostly mild symptoms.”

We also found stories about the mild symptoms Coetzee has documented on many other news sites, including Insider and the Guardian on Nov. 26 and the New York Post and the Telegraph on Nov. 27. Other news organizations also reported on the mild symptoms after this claim was posted on Facebook, including CNBCFortuneBloomberg and The Washington Post.

We rate the post that said only Reuters reported on the omicron variant’s mild symptoms False.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Ciara O'Rourke is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. Previously, Ciara covered local government and public safety for the Austin American-Statesman and fact-checked elected officials and…
Ciara O'Rourke

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