For officials, a battle against the virus and the viral

Malaysia’s health officials are having to battle a virus as well as viral misinformation (AFP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Health officials in Malaysia have two urgent battles in hand – dealing with the Wuhan virus and with the viral postings on the internet about the outbreak.

Both matters have been keeping the ministry busy.

Out of sheer frustration with the viral fake news, speculation and rumours relating to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad pointed it out to the media: “We have two problems at hand…one is the virus, but the more pressing one is the viral fake news on the spread of the virus.”

An example of the misleading information that Dzulkefly highlighted to the media was the accusations by many netizens that Malaysia is not serious in tackling the problem as the nation had yet to bar incoming tourists from China.

The minister spoke hours before the government announced that it was suspending the issuance of visas to enter Malaysia, for residents of Wuhan, Hubei province and surrounding areas. “The facility will be restored when the situation normalises,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Dzulkefly pointed out Malaysia adhered to the International Health Regulation (IHR) 2005 and therefore any such action could only be taken based on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The health minister said this after making a working visit to the KL International Airport (KLIA) and KLIA2 in Sepang this morning.

Prior to this, the MOH had dismissed fake news that a prisoner had died after eating Mandarin oranges infected with the virus and that a Malaysian student who returned from Wuhan had been warded in Ipoh.

A photograph purportedly showing a planeload full of China nationals arriving in Langkawi to escape the coronavirus back home had also gone viral over the social media, creating alarm. However, the tour company that brought in the crowd said they were just the tour agency’s passengers from Nanjing, China.

The police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission issued a joint statement warning today that stern action will be taken against irresponsible parties who spread fake content or news or rumours about the coronavirus.

China’s health authorities announced that there have been 80 deaths and 2,744 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus, with 461 victims in critical condition.