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How Flanders indirectly funds fake coronavirus news

A child in a medical mask during a coronavirus pandemic. Credit: WIkipedia

The Flemish government is facing claims of indirectly supporting fake coronavirus news, after it was linked to a bi-monthly magazine blaming the virus on everything from 5G to the flu vaccine.

BioGezond, a self-proclaimed “info magazine about Healthy Living,” first began to tackle the coronavirus in April by offering ‘natural’ ways to strengthen the immune system – including vitamins, elderberries and medicinal mushrooms – before praising extra virgin coconut oil as “effective and safe antiviral against the new coronavirus.”

This, however, was only the start of the claims. By September, the magazine – available in nature and bio shops, wellness centres and alternative therapists across Flanders and Brussels – took a stance on the “nonsensical” and “totally unnecessary” Belgian measures against the virus’ spread.

The magazine’s articles were written by members of ‘De Levensschool vzw’ (“The Life School”), an “academy for integral health care” that came into disrepute several years ago for teaching unscientific cancer therapies. The institute, however, is officially recognised and subsidised by the Flemish government, albeit with the major caveat that funding is not an assessment of the quality of the service provided.

The September Edition

Promising “uncensored information about Covid-19,” the September issue of the magazine claimed that “the mainstream media, the megalomaniac medical experts who are featured in it and the puppet-on-a-string politicians have, through mass hypnosis, created a surrealistic universe that is completely out of touch with scientific reality.”

Willem Engels of the Dutch ‘Viruswaarheid’ (“Virus truth”), which organised several protests against the Covid-19 measures in the Netherlands, is among the people featured in the articles, as are the Spanish ‘Medicos por la Verdad’ (“Doctors for the Truth”), which blame the coronavirus on electromagnetic stress due to 5G and the flu vaccination.

Additionally, the magazine makes claims already outed as false by the Belgian government and several experts, including saying that Covid-19 is no more deadly than the flu, that face masks and social distancing are nonsense and that potential vaccines are “unsafe” and “a fake solution.”

A study by government health institute Sciensano and several universities showed, for example, that Covid-19 is five to ten times more deadly than the flu, and former federal health minister Maggie De Block clearly states that masks help to protect others against infections.

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For more “scientific background” on the virus and the measures, readers are referred to ‘Viruswaanzin’ (“Viral madness”), the organisation of “pestered Belgians” who are taking the Belgian state to court over the coronavirus restrictions.

In a reaction in Knack about the news, the Flemish sector organisation of organic agriculture and nutrition, BioForum Vlaanderen, said that BioGezond’s articles “contain statements that in no way correspond with the attitude of the organic sector.”

“We find it regrettable that BioGezond in this way undermines the will to follow up the measures among some bio-consumers, and this at a time when bio shops are doing their utmost to follow all the rules closely,” BioForum Vlaanderen stated. “As a sector organisation, we therefore emphatically distance ourselves from these publications.”

The Flemish government’s recognition

Even though the unscientific cancer therapies from the Germanic New Medicine were described as “life-threatening and sectarian practices” in 2013, the Flemish authorities extended De Levensschool’s registration in 2019 to 2024.

The Flemish authorities, however, have always stressed that registration as a service provider for the SME portfolio is “not an assessment of the quality of the service provided.”

The official recognition by the Flemish authorities means that some of the institute’s tuition fees can be paid (partly) with training cheques from the VDAB, the Flemish government’s Service for Employment Mediation and Professional Training. Additionally, self-employed people can receive subsidies for further training at De Levensschool from the government’s SME coffer.

The cabinet of Flemish Economy Minister Hilde Crevits confirmed that the government partly funds the tuition fees to Het Laatste Nieuws. “This is currently being checked and evaluated,” the cabinet said. “It should absolutely not be the intention that organisations spread such false information.”

Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times