Welsh government deletes ‘fake news’ advice that tenors spread COVID-19 more easily

21 June 2021, 14:25

Welsh government deletes covid guidance for singers informed by fake news article
Welsh government deletes covid guidance for singers informed by fake news article. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Tenors deny they are more likely to spread coronavirus, as the Welsh government deletes official guidance which appeared to be based on a spoof news post on social media.

Official COVID-19 guidance for singers issued – and now deleted – by the Welsh government in light of the reopening of places of worship, appears to have been informed by a spoof news post.

Wales’ government has since deleted guidance on its website that suggests “tenors are more likely to emit more virus than altos and sopranos”.

The advice appears to have been motivated by a spoof social media news post, created by meme page Quire Memes to appear as if written by us here at Classic FM. A doctored headline claimed that ‘Tenors should sit three metres away from other choir members, COVID study says’.

The post, which is categorically fake news, is captioned: “Tenors found to disperse aerosols the furthest, in this in-depth coronavirus study.”

A government spokesperson denied that the advice was based on a spoof post, but said they “apologise unreservedly for this error and for any confusion it may have caused”.

Professional tenor and choral director Charles MacDougall told The Telegraph it was “preposterous” that the Welsh government appeared to have based their official guidance on a meme.

“It is a total lack of care in getting singing going again and the investment in understanding anything about it,” he said. “That guidance is based on spoof evidence”.

UPDATE: the guidance has now been taken down, but not before The Telegraph got hold of the story and interviewed me...

Posted by Charles Alexander MacDougall on Saturday, June 19, 2021

The creator behind Quire Memes has since clarified their post was a meme that was a spoof version of a real Classic FM article, reporting on research that flautists presented a bigger risk of spreading COVID-19 based on findings from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Before the Welsh government deleted the advice, conductor Sam Evans took a screenshot and posted it to Twitter, calling the botched guidance “farcical”.

“Where are you getting this nonsense from? Are you just making it up?” he asked the government’s official Twitter page.

As UK government guidelines maintain amateur choirs should rehearse only in groups of six indoors, the fake news scandal has led to a wider conversation around the evidence ministers are using in order to inform their decisions about Covid safety for the performing arts world.

While thousands of spectators have been gathering to watch outdoor football matches and “pilot events” such as the BRIT Awards, restrictions on amateur choral singing remain limited to just six people indoors.

Read more: ‘10,000 singing football fans, but only 6 in a choir?’

Backed by the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), a study last year found that singing posed no more risk than talking when it comes to spreading the virus.

A Welsh Government spokesperson told Wales Online: “Updated guidance about reopening places of worship was published earlier this week, which included some inaccurate information about risks associated with singing. We apologise unreservedly for this error and for any confusion it may have caused.

“We have removed this guidance to correct it and will publish a new version as soon as possible. People are able to sing in places of worship in Wales. Organisers should continue to assess the risks involved, consider other safety mitigations where appropriate and put plans in place to keep their congregation as safe as possible.”