The French government was forced to tell people that cocaine does not cure COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, to dispel widely circulated misinformation spreading online.

In response to doctored images suggesting that cocaine "kills" the coronavirus being shared thousands of times on Twitter over the past week, the French health ministry tweeted on Sunday: "No, cocaine does NOT protect against COVID-19. It is an addictive drug that causes serious side effects and is harmful to people's health."

France has been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, with 1,209 confirmed cases and 19 deaths so far.

As the virus has spread, myths and conspiracy theories about it have been disseminated online.

The myth that cocaine is an effective countermeasure against catching the virus appears to have started when Twitter accounts with large numbers of followers posted tweets with fake images of a news channel with the headline "cocaine kills coronavirus" and were retweeted thousands of times.

The WHO has also debunked several myths about the coronavirus.

There has been a wave of conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media about the origin of the coronavirus since the outbreak started in Wuhan, China, such as that it was created as a bioweapon or population-control scheme or that it was caused by the deployment of 5G technology in China.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter have announced strict measures to counter the spread of misinformation after the WHO said last month that a "massive 'infodemic'" made it "hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it."

In a blog post last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the platform would remove conspiracy theories related to the coronavirus that are flagged by health organizations, as well as label coronavirus misinformation.

The UK government has also moved to counter the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus by setting up a fake-news department.

"Teams across Whitehall have been brought together into a unit to help provide a comprehensive picture on the potential extent, scope and impact of disinformation," the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport said in a statement.

"Officials are working with strategic communications experts to make sure the government is prepared to respond where necessary.

"The work includes regular and robust engagement with the social media companies to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation."