Fake department claims stack up as state authorities call out attempts to foster fears

By Shannon Jenkins

January 29, 2020

Adobe Stock

The New South Wales Department of Health has come out against widespread social media posts claiming to be issued by the “Department of Diseasology Parramatta”.

The posts make fake claims about the coronavirus, stating that it has been detected in various foods and areas of Sydney, while posing as a NSW department.

Despite the messages referring to the virus as “corna’s disease” and being littered with spelling errors, they have been shared widely across social media, including by childcare centres.

One post said the virus has been detected in rice, noodles, fortune cookies, onion rings, ice tea, “Chinese” Red Bull, and wagyu beef. It also claimed specific train stations in Sydney’s western suburbs “have shown positive readings to the virus”.

NSW Health issued a public statement refuting the claims on Tuesday.

“NSW Health has been made aware of a social media post that is being widely circulated warning people to not consume certain foods or visit certain locations in Sydney. This post has not originated from NSW Health or any related entity,” the department wrote on Twitter.

“Further, there is no such entity as the ‘Department of Diseasology Parramatta’. NSW Health would like to assure the community that the locations mentioned in this post pose no risk to visitors, and there have been no ‘positive readings’ at train stations.”

Attempts to mislead the public about the coronavirus have also occurred in Queensland. On Monday, state MP Duncan Pegg called out a fake press release claiming to be from Queensland Health. The message warned people against travelling to areas populated “with Chinese nationals of ratio of 1 to 3 non-Chinese Australians”.

“This media release is 100% FAKE!!! FAKE!!! FAKE!!!” Pegg wrote.

On Facebook, the real Queensland Health issued a statement urging people to only seek news from official sources in order to “avoid misinformation”.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher likened the circulation of fake news to the recent disinformation campaign surrounding the Australian bushfires.

“When it comes to the coronavirus, legitimate and authoritative sources online include communications from the Federal Department of Health’s website health.gov.au, state health department websites, the Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt and his state counterparts, as well as Australia’s many well-known and trusted media organisations,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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