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In this week's newsletter, we've returned again to a comparison of Australia’s COVID-19 deaths to those of Sweden, this time checking a claim made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the number of coronavirus deaths in the Nordic country is 20 times the number recorded in Australia.
We've also studied the Facebook posts of federal Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who questioned Victoria Police uniforms, and Victorian Liberal MP Bernie Finn, who has been caught out sharing a fabricated quote.
Scott Morrison made a comparison of deaths in Sweden and Australia. Does it check out?
While Sweden is often cited in debates over how best to balance health and economic considerations in response to the coronavirus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison doesn’t think Australia should be following that country's model of lax restrictions.
Speaking on Sky News this week, the Prime Minister said June quarter GDP showed Australia’s economy had experienced one of the "lowest falls of any developed country".
"Our economy fell by 7 per cent. Devastating, absolutely devastating. But compared to the rest of the world, it was one of the lowest falls of any developed country," Mr Morrison said.
"And when you look at our health results, both on the case incidents in Australia of COVID and the upsetting number of deaths that we've had compared to overseas, I mean, I know a lot of people on your program talk about Sweden. Well, Sweden has had a bigger fall in their economy and they've had almost 20 times the number of deaths."
Indeed, Sweden’s economy tumbled 8.3 per cent in the June quarter, compared with Australia’s drop of 7 per cent.
However, Mr Morrison's claim that Sweden has had almost 20 times the number of deaths is wide of the mark.
According to data compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University, Australia had recorded 859 COVID-19 deaths (as of September 23), while Sweden had suffered 5,870 deaths. While Sweden's death count is much higher than Australia's, it is only seven times the number of deaths seen in Australia.
While Mr Morrison referred to the number of deaths when comparing the two nations, a comparison of the rate of deaths in both countries more closely aligns with his claim.
On those figures, Sweden's rate of deaths per million people is 576.62 compared with Australia’s rate of 34.37. That means the Nordic nation has suffered a death rate more than 16 times that of Australia.
Craig Kelly questions Victoria Police uniforms
A photo showing Victorian police responding to COVID-19 breaches has been shared on Facebook by Liberal MP Craig Kelly along with a caption questioning why the officers are wearing a different uniform to "regular Victoria police".
"Who are the people in the black uniforms with red 'Police' written on the back?" Mr Kelly asked.
"Does anyone know why they are dressed differently from the regular Victorian police? Is it true that they don't display the officer's name on their uniform? Has anyone ever seen these uniforms on the streets before?"
Comments responding to Mr Kelly’s post suggest the red on the uniform marked the officers as part of the "Strong Cities Network", a coalition of cities working against violent extremism.
"Good question! We need answers," one comment reads. "Is this Chairman Dan's private security force / UN Strong Cities Force?"
So, what's the deal with the uniforms?
According to a Victoria Police spokeswoman, the uniform pictured is that of the force's Public Order Response Team (PORT).
"PORT regularly responds to planned and unplanned events which can include protests, or large scale sporting or entertainment events," the spokeswoman told Fact Check in an email.
"When officers from PORT are responding in large numbers at crowded events, coloured patches including red, blue and green alongside numbers on uniforms are used to clearly identify them from general duties police."
On the question of identity, the spokeswoman said the officers were indeed required to wear either a name badge or one identifying them by their "registered number".
As to suggestions Victoria Police had been "privatised" and "sold out" to the "Strong Cities Force", fact checkers at AAP rated such claims as false.
While Victoria is signed up to the Strong Cities Network, which is led by an independent UK think tank and aimed at tackling violent extremism, the fact checkers found that control of Victoria Police remains solely in the hands of the Victorian Government.
"While Victoria is a member city of the Strong Cities Network, this has no impact on the operations of Victoria Police, which continues to be owned by, and accountable to, Victoria's government," AAP said.
Despite claims on Facebook to the contrary, the network says it is not connected to the United Nations. However, its official launch took place in New York in 2015, at the margins of the UN General Assembly.
In regards to Mr Kelly's question on whether the uniforms shown in the post had been seen on the streets before, news reports show the red patches have been in use since at least September 2019, when PORT officers were involved in removing
animal rights activists from a bridge in Melbourne (pictured).
Victorian MP shares fake Daniel Andrews quote
Victorian Liberal Party MP Bernie Finn has shared to Facebook a quote falsely attributed to Daniel Andrews.
"In fact, you'd be surprised at how much can be avoided if people stop insisting on their personal freedoms," an image posted by Mr Finn reads. "Because insisting on human rights is not only selfish, it's stupid."
The post suggests the Premier made the comments this month.
But according to fact checkers at AAP, the quote comes from a clearly labelled satirical article published by conservative news outlet The Spectator Australia, with a Victorian government spokeswoman confirming that Mr Andrews had never made the statement.
A "false information" label has now been placed on Mr Finn's post, although it took at least four days for the warning to appear, and the post remains live.
From Washington, D.C.
As debate rages across the US about the worth of mandatory mask-wearing, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has come out strongly against a statement by the director of The Centers for Disease Control, Robert Redfield, that "face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have".
Responding, Mr Meadows told reporters on September 17: "I will gladly wear my mask each and every day if that's what makes the difference — and it doesn't."
"I think that even a Dr Redfield, Dr Fauci or anybody else would suggest that it is a mitigating effort, but it is not something that is designed to, to actually make sure that we don't have the coronavirus spread."
But fact checkers at CNN’s Facts First found Mr Meadows's claim that masks don't make a difference to be false, and that both Dr Redfield and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had "touted the role of masks in preventing the spread of coronavirus".
"Per the latest estimates from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), universal mask usage would save 135,000 lives by January 1," the fact checkers noted.
They added that the CDC director had also said in July: "If we all wore face coverings for the next four, six, eight, 12 weeks, across the nation, this virus transmission would stop."
In other news
The death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week prompted immediate furore among Washington policy makers as they argued over the question of when, and by whom, the late jurist's seat would be filled.
For her part, Justice Ginsberg’s final wish, reportedly dictated to her granddaughter, was that she "not be replaced until a new president is installed".
But President Donald Trump quickly cast doubt on the validity of that request, suggesting that Democrat powerbrokers were likely its real authors. Fact checkers at CNN's Facts First labelled that claim a "baseless conspiracy theory".
PolitiFact, meanwhile, has been tracking lawmakers who backflipped on previously held positions on nominating a new justice in an election year, comparing their recent comments with those made in 2016, when a vote for then president Barack Obama’s nominee for the court was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate on the grounds that an election was approaching.
On the Democrats' side, the fact checkers determined that both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Winsconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin have changed their stance since 2016 when they pushed for a new justice to be appointed. Both are now calling for any new appointment to be postponed.
As for Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with Senators Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), all earned a "Full Flop" rating from PolitiFact for their newly articulated positions insisting on a nomination proceeding ahead of November’s presidential election.
Edited by Ellen McCutchan, with thanks to Arielle Richards and Katie Johnson
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