Officials in Kenya say they have no confirmed coronavirus cases to date, but they’re addressing a different kind of contagion – the spread of COVID-19 disinformation – with some hefty fines.
“The fake news is alarmist, inciteful and its sole purpose is to cause fear and spread panic to the public,” said government spokesman Cyrus Oguna. His office warned that it is a criminal offense to impersonate a Kenyan official, and all communication on the coronavirus must come from him, the health ministry or their designees.
“It is also criminal to spread such malicious and alarmist statements through social and digital channels,” Oguna added. Such messages are being forwarded to Kenya’s cybersecurity experts for investigation, and those responsible face up to two years in jail and a US$50,000 fine.
The Oguna announcement followed circulation of a health ministry audio clip that appeared to confirm COVID-19 cases, but the ministry said the leaked audio came from a simulation exercise.
The Kenyan health ministry statement, issued on Tuesday, said the drill in Machakos County was for crisis communication training. The ministry also urged the public to avoid sharing unsubstantiated information about the outbreak.
The coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, in December has now spread to at least 64 countries, with severe outbreaks in Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea. Six countries on the African continent – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, as well as Nigeria and Senegal – have confirmed cases.
There were 90,893 reported cases and 3,110 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to the World Health Organization.
“We understand that people are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat, especially when it’s a threat we don’t completely understand,” said WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Yet he assured that health officials are learning more about the new virus every day.
Image: University of Hong Kong