Inside the coronavirus Facebook groups where Brits are pulling kids from school, disinfecting buses and buying gas masks – The Sun

BRITS terrified of coronavirus are flooding Facebook groups to share panic-buying tips, ask for medical advice and urge parents to pull their children from school.

More than 10,000 people have already joined UK-based groups about the deadly virus outbreak – which has killed more than 3,250 globally, with 115 confirmed cases so far in Britain.

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Stockpiled food and Army-style gas masks

United by their fear of a doomsday scenario, members are sharing pictures of their overflowing cupboards, urging others to stockpile canned food and toiletries before it's "too late".

Others are posting conspiracy theories and images of Army-style gas masks, while some think every Brit should carry bleach to spray on railings, buses and trains during their daily commute.

"Is anyone else wiping down food packaging with antibac wipes after a shop?" asks one member.

Another, believing the UK's richest may have secretly protected themselves against Covid-19, writes: "I think we should blood test high flyers in London etc to see if they already have the vaccine."

Far from being conspiracy nuts, many members appear to be mums and dads from leafy towns across the UK, riddled with panic over a potential pandemic that has infected 96,000 worldwide.

"I’m just a mum trying to keep us safe and do everything I can to ensure this," says one woman, who gives her children five antibacterial wipes each day to wipe down their school desks and chairs.

'Mob rule mentality'

However, experts warn joining such groups – which have littered Facebook, with more than a dozen UK-based ones alone – could actually INCREASE Brits' chances of contracting coronavirus.

They say participating in these pages can spark a "mob rule mentality" and widespread panic – with members' brains reacting to the feared apocalyptic situation as if it's actually happened.

"We can risk literally whipping ourselves up into an unnecessary frenzy of fear and that in itself lowers your immune system and ironically could make you more susceptible to illness," psychotherapist Claire Goodwin-Fee tells Sun Online.

Comments 'fuelling panic'

Former police chief Kul Mahay, now an emotional intelligence and leadership specialist, agrees that while these groups can be useful, some comments can cause "unnecessary panic".

'How do I disinfect a lettuce?'

We were approved to join several within minutes, despite not answering a series of 'entry' questions. Once inside the groups, we found some fact, some fiction – and plenty of panic, with one concerned woman even asking fellow members for advice on how best to "disinfect" a lettuce.

Another posted: "How can I prevent and prepare for the coronavirus? I am really scared".

Offering advice, a so-called 'prepper', from London, urged: "Go and stock up on tinned food, powdered milk, lighters, candles, health products, binbags, pet food, Dettol etc… we are with you."

'Group discussions can create a larger sense of panic'

Psychotherapist Claire Goodwin-Fee explains how joining in panicked discussion about the coronavirus online could actually INCREASE your chance of contracting the illness.

Claire, of The Therapy Couch, says: "Anxiety around our children is very understandable and natural particularly when faced with illness or disease.

However, it is important to remember that emotions are not facts and that is key in how we respond.

"Continuously watching reports around this or participating in debates online can create a larger sense of panic than necessary.

"We activate our fight or flight response which is literally a survival mechanism. One normally activated if there is a serious threat to our life in that moment.

"The danger is that our brains do not know the difference between what is actually happening and what our thoughts are creating.

"When this system activates the front 'thinking part' of our brain isn’t able to work properly and so we respond to stimulus, be it online or in conversation, as if it is real and happening right now.

"This can lead to emotional overload, panic, anxiety and burnout.

"This can lead onto a mob rule mentality that is unhelpful and potentially dangerous."

Another Brit revealed she had been left "sick and shaking" at the thought of her mum catching the virus – and suggested workers should take bottles of bleach to the office with them.

"Was slated last night on local town FB [Facebook] page," she wrote.

"I suggested we ALL do our bit by taking spray bleach to work & clean door handles, switched phones etc. Commuters to spray it on grab rails etc on trains & busses (sic)."

Asking Facebook 'doctors'

Worryingly, some members were using the groups to seek medical advice for themselves and their families, rather than turning to a trained professional for guidance.

"Has anyone had pneumonia jab?" one mum posted in the 'Coronavirus uk' group, which has nearly 800 members. "With the virus it causes pneumonia so would this not help?"

Another asked: "Would you go doctors to re new asthma pumps bit worried."

'Keep your kid at home'

With a soaring number of Brits being struck down with the virus, schools in the worst-hit areas of the country have been temporarily closed, including in Lincolnshire, Cheshire and the West Midlands.

Yet with tens of thousands of schools still open, we found many users urging parents to remove their children from class entirely – or turn up at the gates at breaktime armed with wipes.

One single dad posted: "Just spoke to my sons school they say I will be fined and then took to court if I take my son out. I asked if the school can guarantee my sons safety concerning the virus.

"They said they cant give me 100 percent reassurance that hes going to be safe from it (sic)."

In response, another user said: "Keep your child off and say they have the s***s."

A second agreed: "I would not be sending my kids into school."

On the CoronaVirus UK Updates page, which has more than 7,300 members, another dad admitted he thought he was "being a freak" when he pulled his kids from school and joined the group.

"It was humiliating to speak about to the schools and my family," he wrote, but added: "After watching all the comments and posts today some are hysterical a lot worse than me."

Parents 'scared to death'

One mum on the page admitted she was "scared to death" about her children being at school.

"A couple of things we're doing is giving them the antibacterial hand wash in them little reusable bottles," wrote the woman, from a suburban London town.

"Also putting 5 wipes in a sandwich bag to wipe over there desk and chair in each lesson (sic)."

It's this panic that has led nearly 300 Brits to join a coronavirus home education Facebook group – including a primary school teacher whose son has a compromised immune system.

What Facebook says

FACEBOOK told Sun Online it was investigating the coronavirus groups – and urged people to report any posts or groups they are concerned about to the social network.

A spokesperson said: "We are continually working to combat coronavirus-related misinformation on our platforms, including by removing content that causes harm, as well as connecting people to accurate information from global health experts."

Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement on the site, saying the company had been working with health authorities to coordinate its response to the virus outbreak.

He said: "We're focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information. This is critical in any emergency, but it's especially important when there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of infection.

"If you search for coronavirus on Facebook, you'll see a pop-up that directs you to the World Health Organization or your local health authority for the latest information.

"If you're in a country where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission, you'll also see it in your News Feed."

He added: "We're also focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation."

And it's not just schools that are worrying Brits – but workplaces, too.

One married mum wrote in a group: "My husband works in retail.

"There are cases in our area that are now emerging. Shops are being stripped. My husband has been told he cannot wear a mask as it will insight fear. Also to use sanitiser. His hands are now sore.

"We have decided that when he comes home he will strip off. Bag his clothes up and jump in the shower. His shoes will be Dettoled. But that doesn't stop him from being coughed on or sneezed on."

'I'm bleaching my door handles'

While some workers have been told to work from home or have refused to come into the office at all, other Brits won't leave their homes due to anxiety over the virus.

"I'm bleaching everything – even door handles," one mum tells Sun Online.

"I'm spraying my carpet, sofa and bedding."

Another woman, from Gloucestershire, was horrified when her neighbour asked to borrow some of her 60 per cent alcohol hand sanitiser because she couldn't find any in the shops herself.

"I don’t have loads, what do I do?" the woman posted on a Facebook group. "I have spoken to her previously about my concerns about the virus and told her to stock up and she thought I was mad!"

More gas masks sold than after 9/11

Desperate to keep the virus at bay, some Brits are buying surgical masks and even Army-style respirators – with one UK supplier reporting to have sold 50 TIMES more than usual.

Chris Whybro, of the eBay store Centurion Surplus, which sells Army surplus items, tells us: "I usually sell approximately three to five a week which has gone to 150 a week since the start of the coronovirus outbreak. Wholesalers have sold out across Europe.

"Since 9/11, I've always kept a big stock but there’s never been as big a demand as right now – and this has lasted longer than the 9/11 aftermath."

Some of the groups we investigated featured pictures of members posing in huge gas masks. Other users were spreading conspiracy theories linked to China – where the outbreak began – and 5G.

Yet among the hysteria were more upbeat remarks.

Discussing the first things they would do when the outbreak was over, the members of one UK group wrote: "cry with joy", "travel" and "go around licking door handles like I used to in the old days".

And one mum even came up with some positives of "two weeks' lockdown".

"[I'll] see more of my man and baby, finally catch up on house work, get the grass cut, start some good habits of doing yoga/in house exercise, do some DIY," she wrote.

The UK's confirmed cases

March 5 – The number of cases jumps to 115 – up from 90 earlier in the day.

March 4 – 85 cases are recorded after more than two dozen people who had recently travelled to affected areas were diagnosed.

March 3 -The number of coronavirus patients in the UK rises to 51. Speaking in the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 11 new cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours.

March 2 – 17 more people in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus taking the total number of UK cases to 40. Three of the new cases were linked to the man from Surrey who was the first to be infected within the UK. Eight of the 13 people had visited affected areas including Italy and Iran

February 28 – Wales confirms its first case and two other English people test positive bringing the total to 19 before the first British person to die of coronavirus is reported in Japan as a passenger on the Diamond Princess Cruise

February 27 – one person diagnosed with coronavirus in Northern Ireland February 23 – Department of Health and Social Care confirm four new cases

February 12 – woman becomes first coronavirus case confirmed in London bringing the total to nine

February 10 – four more – three men and a woman – test positive for the killer bug. Two are confirmed as GPs. All were known contacts of Brit businessman Steve Walsh

February 9 – the fourth person in the UK tests positive and is treated at The Royal Free Hospital, London. The person had come into contact with a known carrier of the illness, Steve Walsh, in France

February 6 – Brit businessman diagnosed in Brighton was infected in Singapore and unknowingly became a super-spreader, passing the virus on in France and UK. Later identified as Steve Walsh

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