Flawed reasoning: The Spanish Ministry of Health doesn’t have the necessary facilities for the isolation and culture of SARS-CoV-2, but several laboratories in Spain equipped with the necessary facilities to ensure biosafety have isolated and cultured the virus. And the virus has been isolated and sequenced on numerous occasions in Spain and other countries.
FULL CLAIM: “Spanish High Court Confirms That Covid 19 Does Not Exist!”, “The Spanish health minister was taken to court by lawyers and doctors asking for evidence that COVID-19 really exists”, “COVID-19 does not exist in the form of a virus”, “[SARS-CoV-2] has not been isolated”
On 8 October 2021 a video published by The Charlie Ward Show claimed that Spain’s health minister had admitted in court that COVID-19 does not exist. The video received more than 3,000 interactions on Facebook, including 2,000 shares, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
However, the video contains a number of inaccurate statements about the document by the Spanish Ministry of Health, which we will explain below.
The video by Ward refers to a request for access to information regarding SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that was sent to the Spanish Ministry of Health on 22 July 2021, and to which the Ministry responded on 14 September. The ministry’s response (in Spanish) was shared by the Spanish fact-checking organization Newtral, which published a fact-check that also addressed the same claim.
Public institutions in Spain, including the Ministry of Health, have an information and transparency unit at the service of citizens, whose purpose is to facilitate access to information on institutional management and the use of public resources. The use of this service is regulated by the Official State Gazette number 295, dated 10 December 2013.
Access to information is a routine process in the Spanish public administration. Ward’s statement that “the Spanish health minister was taken to court” doesn’t correspond to reality, since the procedure regarding requests for information didn’t involve a court or the health minister. Instead, the document was signed by the General Director of Public Health, Pilar Aparicio Azcárraga.
In the response, the Spanish Ministry of Health answered several questions related to COVID-19 vaccines and the virus SARS-CoV-2. One of these questions was whether the Ministry of Health had SARS-CoV-2 samples available for testing. The Ministry’s response was:
“The Ministry of Health does not have SARS-CoV-2 culture for testing, and does not have a registry of laboratories with culture and isolation capacity for testing.”
Both Ward, as well as different COVID-19 skeptics in Spain, cited this part of the ministry’s response to claim that SARS-CoV-2 has never been isolated or even that the virus doesn’t exist. However, this is a fallacious interpretation of the text.
Virus isolation consists of separating a virus from other biological components present in a sample. For this purpose, a viral culture is performed. This allows the virus to proliferate in live cells before it is purified.
The culture and isolation of SARS-CoV-2 samples should take place in Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratories, as directed herein by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Biosafety levels “identify the protective measures needed in a laboratory setting to protect workers, the environment, and the public”. These levels are determined based on risk assessments that take into account factors such as a microorganism’s ability to cause disease and the availability of medical treatments should infection occur. BSL-3 facilities are equipped with measures to ensure pathogen containment, such as unidirectional air flows and respiratory protection, to prevent researchers from becoming infected or the pathogen from escaping the facility.
While the Spanish Ministry of Health itself doesn’t have these facilities, several laboratories in Spain have cultured and isolated SARS-CoV-2 in BSL-3 laboratories. Some laboratories in Spain that perform SARS-CoV-2 culture and isolation are the National Centre for Biotechnology or the National Center for Microbiology, both under the Ministry of Science and Innovation, according to this article by the Spanish fact-checking organization Maldita.
Another BSL-3 laboratory in Spain is the Research Support Service of the University of Zaragoza, which isolated and characterized SARS-CoV-2 in June 2020 and published microscopic images of the virus. SARS-CoV-2 has been isolated and sequenced multiple times, as explained in this fact-check by Reuters and this fact-check by Health Feedback.
Therefore, Ward’s assertion that SARS-CoV-2 hasn’t been isolated and doesn’t exist as a virus is incorrect. Moreover, the claim that the Spanish health minister admitted this in front of a court of law is false and an inaccurate description of the proceedings behind the request for information that the Spanish Ministry of Health responded to.