Authorities warn of fake coronavirus news on social media as outbreak spreads

A fake warning about Sydney restaurants is one of many coronavirus hoaxes being shared online.

Fake coronavirus news is spreading on social media.

Fake coronavirus news is spreading on social media. Source: Getty

Authorities are warning people of fake coronavirus "information" being shared on social media as .

On Wednesday, NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters that Australians should be "careful in their engagement with social media".

"I have been personally sent a number of social media posts that are very wrong, things like you can catch novel coronavirus by eating certain foods, you can catch novel coronavirus by going to certain places," she said.

Dr Kerry Chant talks to reporters.
Dr Kerry Chant talks to reporters. Source: AAP

"[This] just adds to community anxiety at a time where we want to provide a reassurance that we are taking a very precautionary approach."

"We want visitors from China and the Hubei province, in particular, to feel very comfortable coming forward to get tested and diagnosed and giving them the reassurance that our health system will care for them, isolate them, protect our health care workers and protect the broader community."

It comes as misinformation is being shared both around Australia and across the world.

Sydney food scare

In Australia, multiple Facebook posts shared hundreds of times claimed to show a list of foods and locations in Sydney which have been contaminated by the new coronavirus strain first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.

One post, published on 27 January, identified different types of rice, cookies and onion rings that allegedly contain traces of the virus.

It also claimed that a "bureau of diseasology" had run tests and discovered the strain in several Sydney suburbs.

But the local health authority said the locations listed posed no risk to visitors, and the foods named did not appear in the NSW food authority's list of recalls and advisories.

The 'Wuhan market'

A video viewed more than 88,000 times on Facebook purported to show the market in Wuhan where the virus strain materialised.

In reality, it was filmed at an Indonesian market.

The misleading post was published on an account in the Philippines on 26 January.

The footage showed bats, rats, snakes and an assortment of other animal meat products being sold at a bustling market.

Dead bats in the video.
Dead bats in the video. Source: Facebook

However, a reverse image search using keyframes extracted from the video led to another identical YouTube clip uploaded on 20 July in 2019 - at the Langowan market in Indonesia's North Sulawesi province.

Fake death projections

In Sri Lanka, a Facebook post shared thousands of times claimed doctors were projecting that the entire population of Wuhan - a city of 11 million people - would likely die of the novel coronavirus.

This is false. Chinese authorities have made no such projection.

There is currently no vaccine for the new strain of coronavirus.

But the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention stated that most people will recover on their own.

The post also claimed the virus could be caught by eating the meat of the Chinese cobra but this has not yet been established.


Multiple posts on Weibo, Twitter and Facebook shared in January claimed top Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan had told people to rinse their mouths with salt water solution to prevent infection from a new virus outbreak.

But the claim is bogus; the expert's team said saline would not "kill" the new virus and urged people not to believe or share medically-inaccurate online rumours.

A post promoring 'Zhong Nanshan’s brilliant idea on preventing infection'.
A post promoring 'Zhong Nanshan’s brilliant idea on preventing infection'. Source: Facebook

The World Health Organization also told AFP there was no evidence that saline solution would protect against infection from the new coronavirus.

Conspiracy theories

Multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter alleged that the novel coronavirus was created on purpose - with theories including that it was manufactured by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The posts included patents to buffer their claim. But these were in fact patents registered in an effort to combat different strains of coronavirus, for example by developing vaccines.

A post shared last week.
A post shared last week. Source: Facebook

False alarm in France

In France, several social media posts have circulated with claims that people had been contaminated with the novel coronavirus in the departments of Val d'Oise, Savoie, Lot-et-Garonne and Pyrenees-Orientales.

Travelers coming from Beijing and wearing a mask arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Travelers coming from Beijing and wearing a mask arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Source: AAP

These false reports were accompanied by images made to look like they were screenshots from several French news sources.

However, these images were digitally manipulated. No cases have been confirmed in these departments.

4 min read
Published 29 January 2020 at 8:04pm
Source: AFP, SBS