Fake news is rife during the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa. Image by MSN.

By Thato Mahlangu

People spreading fake news during the Covid-19 pandemic will be prosecuted, warns the Gauteng Department of Health.

The provincial health department said on Monday that members of the public should be vigilant of any misleading information and fake news that is being shared on social media platforms. Videos, messages and photos, which the provincial department has described as unreliable, have been shared on news and social sites. This information purports to share valuable insights on Covid-19.

In a video that went viral, a Pretoria man can be heard in Afrikaans urging the public not to stay indoors during the lockdown which was announced almost two weeks ago by the president. The man was later arrested by the police.

Another video which was shared on social media shows a man, believed to be from the Western Cape, urging the public to not agree to be tested for Covid-19. The man claimed that the testing kits were contaminated. He has since been charged in terms of Regulation 11(5)(c) of the Disaster Management Act, in relation to “publishing any statement through any medium including social media with the intention to deceive any other person about measures by the government to address Covid-19.

“Today our screening and testing teams have had to plead with community members, who refused to take part in the screening and testing drive due to a misleading video which has gone viral. In the video the public is misled not to agree to being tested, because the swabs which will be used for the tests are allegedly contaminated with Covid-19. We wish to state categorically that this is not true and we can assure the public that the screening and testing will not expose anyone to Covid-19, in any way,” the department said.

The department said the screening and testing, which was also announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, is one of government’s efforts in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We urge the public to take Covid-19 seriously. Over a million people globally have tested positive for the virus, and thousands have lost their lives, including 11 in our country.”

Large scale testing and screening is currently being conducted by community health care workers in some parts of the province.

“The testing and screening programme is aimed at contributing to interrupting the transmission of Covid-19. It should be noted that anyone that creates or spreads fake news about Covid-19 is liable for prosecution. We urge members of the public to verify information before distributing it to others,” warns the department.

The public is advised to report fake news to 076 966 4015 on WhatsApp or by sending an e-mail to fakenewsalert@dtps.gov.za.