Coronavirus: Wuhan cremation claims debunked as experts reveal sulfur dioxide spike 'not based on real data'

NASA has revealed that the data is simply forecasts based on weather patterns and historical information about SO2 emissions


                            Coronavirus: Wuhan cremation claims debunked as experts reveal sulfur dioxide spike 'not based on real data'
Twitter user @Inteldotwav had shared an image claiming to show elevated levels of sulfur dioxide in the Wuhan area (Windy)

A satellite data visualization showing high levels of sulfur dioxide around the Wuhan area had raised eyebrows after it was shared on Twitter earlier this month along with the claim that it could be a sign of mass cremations of Coronavirus victims. These claims have now been debunked.

On February 9, a Twitter user shared a satellite visualization that showed a spike in levels of SO2 mass around Wuhan—the Chinese city suspected to be the origin of the deadly virus.

The user claimed that SO2 levels are "commonly associated with the burning of organic matters", suggesting that it could be the result of dead bodies being burned on the outskirts of the city.

A patient is transferred by an ambulance to the Infectious Disease Centre of Princess Margaret Hospital on January 22, 2020, in Hong Kong, China (Getty Images)

These claims have now been debunked by experts who say the "satellite images" do not show the observed data on current levels of sulfur dioxide but are just predictions. 

NASA, which provided the data for the visualization, told UK-based fact-checking website Full Fact that the numbers are simply forecasts based on weather patterns and historical information about SO2 emissions.

Scientists have also said that the claim about spike in SO2 levels being "commonly associated with the burning of organic matters" is technically correct but misleading in this context.

SO2 emissions are commonly associated with the burning of coal, according to scientists, not human bodies.

Humans contain a negligible amount of sulfur while carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus make up over 99% of all chemicals in the human body. As such, human bodies do not generate an abundance of sulfur compounds when burned, 

The Chinese government has ordered bodies of coronavirus victims to be cremated immediately upon death. They have also decreed that funerals must be low profile in order to prevent large public gatherings.

NOTE: A previous version of this article hinted that 'mass cremations' were behind the spike in SO2 levels seen in 'satellite images' from around Wuhan. The article has been updated after experts revealed that the SO2 levels were based on prediction models.

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