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Wuhan Virus: Malaysia health professionals have had enough of fake news on social media

A group of 14 physicians and specialists in the Malaysian health system has issued a joint statement calling for a strong, calm, and sensible response to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. This comes at a time when misinformation on the Wuhan Virus is being circulated online which causes unnecessary fear and panic.

According to the Global Health Security Index by Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, Malaysia currently ranks #18 worldwide with a score of 62.2 and it is ranked at #3 in Asia. As a comparison, Japan (#21) has an index score of 59.8 while Singapore (#24) has an index score of 58.7. Malaysia has a strong and proven capability to handle outbreaks and it has been commended by the World Health Organisation. Some of the past outbreaks that we have managed to overcome include the Nipah virus in 1998, SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009 and MERS in 2014. Even during non-outbreak periods, there are ongoing efforts to reduce dengue, tuberculosis and HIV, which are also important diseases.

Although the number of cases has increased in China, Malaysia currently has four coronavirus cases with zero deaths reported so far. Airlines have cancelled direct flights from Wuhan since last week while the Government has suspended all Visa programs for visitors coming from Hubei province including its capital city, Wuhan.

The health professionals were disappointed that Malaysians have reacted to the recent outbreak irresponsibly by creating and sharing false rumour and news through social media. Although it is understandable that concerned Malaysians want to protect themselves and their families, they urge the general public to remain calm and to trust official sources of information while practising precautions as advised by the Health Ministry. They also emphasised that spreading false rumours or news will only distract the Health Ministry from important public health responses.

The group of doctors and medical representatives also emphasised that it is illegal to spread false rumour or news and it is wrong to politicise the situation or harm our social harmony. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) have recently issued a warning that spreading false information on the Wuhan virus outbreak is an offence under Section 505 of the Penal Code and offenders can also be charged under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) which carries a maximum fine of RM100,000. Four individuals have been identified to assist with investigations.

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The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has also called on Malaysians to take safety and health as a priority and to keep abreast with the news by reading the latest information distributed by the Health Ministry through various channels. His Majesty and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandriah have regretted the actions of several irresponsible parties that issued false statements which are made viral by others without checking. Both their Majesties hoped that every Malaysian would play their role in not creating unnecessary panic among the people or to disturb the peace by disseminating information that has not been verified.

The joint statement was issued by Dr Khor Swee Kheng, Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, Prof Dato’ Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman (Dean of Medicine, Universiti Malaya), Prof Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali (Dean of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), Dato’ Dr Zainal Ariffin Bin Omar (President, Public Health Association of Malaysia), Prof Dr Rosmawati Mohamed (Master, Academy of Medicine Malaysia), Dr Jeffrey Abu Hassan (President, Islamic Medical Association Malaysia (IMAM)), Dr N Ganabaskaran (President, Malaysian Medical Association), Dr Abdul Halim Shibghatullah (Chairman, IKRAM Health Malaysia), A/Prof Dr Mohammad Husni Jamal (President, Academy of Family Physicians Malaysia), Amrahi Buang (President, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society), Dr Ahmad Firdaus Mohd Haris (President, Medical Mythbusters Malaysia), Haji Mustafa Abd Majid (President, Malaysian Association of Medical Assistants) and Pn Sharipah Asiah Syed Junid Aljunid (President, Malaysian Nurses Association).

As always, if you’re not sure, don’t share. For the latest info on the coronavirus situation in Malaysia, you can follow the Ministry of Health via Facebook or Twitter.

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Alexander Wong