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Society & Culture

Stopping the Epidemic of Fake Coronavirus News

Feb 14, 2020
  • Peng Nian

    Assistant Fellow, National Institute for South China Sea Studies

The rapid spread of false information about the novel coronavirus has been noted both inside and outside of China since the outbreak in Wuhan in December. It resulted in some panic and even fostered anti-Chinese sentiment in a few countries.

Both the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently called on people not to spread false reports about the novel coronavirus and to fostering racist anti-China sentiments.

Because of the close people-to-people exchanges between China and Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam may be the areas most affected by the coronavirus. So far, the total number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia is 77, with Malaysia accounting for 10, including nine Chinese citizens and a local man.

It is the first time that a Malaysian citizen had been infected. Given this, some residents in Malaysia are fearful the coronavirus will spread through the country, especially in villages that don’t have internet connectivity. Those places lack information about effective preventive measures.

The Malaysian government has begun educating the community about the novel coronavirus by coordinating the country’s Information Department, the national news agency Bernama and television station RTM. According to a statement by the department, the effort is aimed at preventing the increasing spread of fabricated or unverified news about the virus in the country.

So far, the department has handed out leaflets on the coronavirus, including preventive measures and what to do if symptoms appear. The news agencies have proposed the Information on Wheels initiative, under which officials drive around announcing relevant information in three languages — Bahasa Malaysia, English and Chinese. Owing to the great effort made by the government, false information has been curbed and useful information has been spread.

Meanwhile, Duterte assured people that “everything is OK in the Philippines,” easing the country’s panic. So far, no Filipinos have been infected. There have been three confirmed cases in the country, and the Philipine government has ordered a temporary travel ban on tourists coming from China’s Hubei province.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Singapore has remained calm and refused to bow to any sign of xenophobia against Chinese. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen visited China to show his strong support for the country. Vietnam and Thailand have begun providing medical supplies and other assistance to China. An increasing number of countries, including the United States, which was perceived by some as an “ill-wisher” and “onlooker,” have offered assistance to China.

To conclude, bad information and panic only worsens the situation, while confidence and cooperation help to solve problems. Stopping spread of false reports is a key step in the international war against the coronavirus. Promoting international cooperation — the Sino-U.S. relationship, in particular — is essential to containing it.

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