The government is urging people to remain calm amid the ongoing outbreak of 2019-nCoV, the new coronavirus that originated in China, and resist a growing number of social media rumors containing false information and abusive comments related to the illness.
A number of baseless claims have recently appeared online, such as one about an infected patient having fled from a hospital and another about smoking being a way to ward off the coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
In late January, a rumor went viral about a Chinese tourist who arrived at Kansai International Airport with a fever and cough but supposedly fled from a hospital in the area prior to receiving a medical examination.
The case prompted Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura to assure reporters it was disinformation. The airport operator also denied the claim.
A rumor that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be canceled due to the virus outbreak also became rampant on social media, forcing Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to brush aside such speculation at a news conference Friday.
The health ministry has received a flurry of groundless rumors and abusive remarks in calls and emails, with one comment saying, “Chinese people are spreading disease agents — it’s like biological terrorism.”
An official said the ministry is also aware of discrimination against children of health professionals who have attended to infected patients in Japan.
“People may feel uneasy because we know relatively little about the virus, but it is important to exercise vigilance against that virus with correct information,” another official said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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