VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Video of Chinese police ‘shooting’ 25k COVID-19 patients UNTRUE

A video being widely circulated on social media claims to show cops in China shooting patients infected with coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It’s not true.

On Feb. 15, a Facebook (FB) user uploaded a screenshot of a message she received via FB Messenger. It was a video with a thumbnail featuring two people wearing protective gear, and was captioned: “Over 25,000 killed they have started shooting down all the people with the virus in China ( video shared by a reliable source in China ) - forwarded.”

To allow others to view it, the netizen provided in her caption a link to a YouTube copy of the 56-second-long video. It was titled “Happening in China, for real?” and uploaded by YouTube channel Family Yang Vlogs.

The manipulated clip appears to have rapidly made the rounds on Messenger and other private messaging platforms. It was sent to VERA Files Fact Check by three readers over a week.

None of the four clips spliced together shows cops “shooting” COVID-19 patients. In fact, one of the clips is actually of a road crash. Another one features not the sound of gunshots, but the explosion of Lunar New Year Fireworks in the background.

First two clips show cops, but no ‘shooting’

The first 14 seconds of the video show three people in protective suits beside a vehicle, prominently labeled “POLICE” with plate number G1796. The audio features a man speaking in Chinese, followed by an infant coughing.

The next clip, which runs for four seconds, shows them walking in an alley. One of the individuals appears to be carrying a handgun and the other two brandished what look like long guns.

No act of shooting or killing of patients was caught on video.

What is certain is that they are cops, likely to be from Jinhua municipality in Zhejiang, China.

VERA Files Fact Check looked into the vehicle in the video and found that the blue wave design on the front passenger door, overlaid with the People’s Police of the People’s Republic of China logo, and a “police” decal in Chinese characters placed on the rear passenger’s door, are consistent with those found on a photo of a police car included in a January 2019 report of state-own media outlet Liuzhou News Network.

Vehicles in Jinhua are assigned the prefix ‘浙G’ (or ‘Zhejiang G’) for their license plates.

In contrast, for example, Wuhan City in Hubei province, which is the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, is assigned the car plate prefix ‘鄂A’ (or ‘Hubei A’).

The Yiwu Police Bureau, which handles Yiwu City that is under the jurisdiction of Jinhua, claimed the officers in the video to be part of their force. In a statement they released via a report by state-owned media China Global Television Network (CGTN), the authorities clarified that the officers “were only dealing with a rabid dog” reported to them by residents in a neighborhood in Futian town, Yiwu, on Feb. 1.

The earliest retrievable copies of the two clips on the Web can be traced to two consecutive Feb. 1 tweets by a netizen, whose tweets are mostly in Chinese characters but whose location is in "Ozora-cho, Hokkaido” in Japan.

The netizen, however, appears to not have had a clue about what the police were doing and just described what he was seeing in the tweet. Roughly translated, one of the tweets reads: “Unidentified people with a glock pistol and an assault rifle entered our community and I don’t know what to do.”

Fireworks, not gunshots, in third clip

The fourteen seconds that followed the first two clips began with the sound of continuous explosions, while visuals showed what appears to be medical workers attending to people lying on the ground.

The earliest copy of the clip that VERA Files Fact Check found online was a 26-second Jan. 26 Youtube video uploaded at 2:23 a.m. UTC by the channel News from Asia, which has been regularly publishing content about COVID-19. This copy shows that the clip in the misleading video was cropped.

Similar to the first two clips, no act of execution is seen in the video. The people in the clip also don’t seem bothered by the “gunshots.” Those on the floor are not bleeding.

A copy of the 26-second clip uploaded on Twitter the same day at 7:03 a.m. UTC was described by its publisher as showing Wuhan residents who “can't go to the hospital after being infected.” The tweet also pointed out that the consecutive exploding sounds heard in the video are not of gunshots but of fireworks set off for the Chinese New Year, which was celebrated Jan. 25.

Last clip has fake ‘shooting’ sounds edited in, actually shows road crash

The fourth clip shows a bloodied man lying limp on the roadside while someone grieves beside him. Audio includes sounds of gunshots in the background, and a person wailing. An ambulance, a motorcycle lying nearby, and a police mobile car can also be seen briefly.

Some Chinese characters are seen on the ambulance. Mobile application Papago, which could translate text from a photo, recognized the Chinese writing as “Wuzu Town Medical Center.”

Wuzu is a town in Huangmei County, Hubei Province -- located some 200 km east of Wuhan.

A copy of the clip uploaded on Twitter two weeks before the false, compounded video on FB was published seems to be telling the real deal. Unlike the video circulating on FB, the earlier copy of the clip did not carry shooting sounds in the background. It appears the gunshot audio was spuriously overlaid on the false video to make it appear the bloodied person was gunned down by authorities.

A closer look at some parts of the video reveals a motorcycle lying on the ground, as well as a ruined pavement, suggesting a motorcycle crash.

The crash was confirmed by the Wuzu Police. In a statement, also carried in a Feb. 13 CGTN article, it said the video was the aftermath of a Jan. 29 motorcycle crash, where a 15-year-old boy driving a scooter hit a curb on the footpath beside the road, and died.

This was further validated by a resident of Wuzu, who claims to live near the site of the crash. In a Feb. 11 fact check article published by French media organization The Observers, the Wuzu resident affirmed that the viral clip “was filmed in Wuzu, in front of the Siyuan school on January 29, 2020,” and that the young man “was not killed by the police” but perished in a motorcycle crash.

Aside from The Observers, other fact checking organizations have also debunked the claims of the viral clips.

Lastly, the forwarded message’s claim that 25,000 COVID-19 patients have already been killed in China is baseless. A Johns Hopkins case tracker shows that 79,251 cases of COVID-19 are currently confirmed in Mainland China, 12,994 of them already fully-recovered.

The false video, which was uploaded twice on Youtube by channel Family Yang Vlogs, got an accumulated view count of over 1,800 as of writing. The channel was created on July 16 last year, with most of its videos being beauty and daily life vlogs of its owner.


(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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