State employee in hot water for allegedly spurring panic about coronavirus

EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON

The health department has condemned false claims that Covid-19 had spread to the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu has come out strongly against the creation and distribution of a voice note containing false and misleading information about the novel coronavirus.

The recording, featuring the voice of a woman, was widely shared on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. It has alluded to a false scenario of “panic” due to the “presence of a number of patients with the novel coronavirus at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital (PMMH)”.

This has been strongly denied by hospital management.

In a statement on Monday, the health department said they had traced the recorded voice to an employee of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), who was now facing disciplinary action by both management of PMMH and the state-owned laboratory service.

MEC Simelane-Zulu said she would welcome stringent action against any individual who was reckless enough to spread false information.

“We are always deeply concerned when people resort to creating and spreading false propaganda, which causes a lot of unnecessary fear and anxiety in our communities. This is a particularly sensitive time, and government is doing a lot of good work to contain the novel coronavirus from spreading.

“This is a time for cool heads, when we should be expending our efforts and resources on creating awareness about the virus, how it should be prevented, and what people should do if they believe they may be exhibiting its symptoms.

“It is for a very good reason that government has adopted a stance that only the health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, is authorised to confirm any cases of coronavirus, after laboratory tests have been conducted, and the results received.

“It is absolutely vital that government speaks with one voice on this matter, so that all information that goes out to the public is truthful, accurate and credible. We’re therefore calling on all of society to exercise restraint and act responsibly.

“While the production and dissemination of fake news is a global problem, it is unbecoming of state employees to involve themselves in such malicious conduct. They really should know better.

“This case should therefore serve as a warning that we will not tolerate anything that serves to undermine all the good work that is being done by government in responding to this emergency. We await a report from the hospital with keen interest, and hope that the action that will be taken will serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering doing something similar.”

(Edited by Charles Cilliers)

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