Coronavirus pandemic: Public warned to be wary of 'fake news' online advice

13 March 2020, 16:31

The Department of Health and Social Care is urging Brits to follow NHS advice
The Department of Health and Social Care is urging Brits to follow NHS advice. Picture: PA

By Tobi Akingbade

The public is being warned to be careful of false guidance about coronavirus online amid attempts by tech giants to tackle misinformation.

The Department of Health and Social Care said anonymous posts being shared that claim to be from Japanese doctors or Stanford Hospital who recommend self-testing for Covid-19 by holding their breath are not accurate.

The department pointed towards the NHS website for official advice on the outbreak.

"We're aware of inaccurate advice circulating on #COVID19," it tweeted.

"Anonymous posts, claiming to be from Stanford Hospital or Japanese doctors, are suggesting you can self-check for #coronavirus by holding your breath. This is not accurate."

It comes as a cross-Government counter-disinformation unit was set up in a bid to deal with the potential extent, scope and impact of misleading and false details.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport-led team will engage with social media companies to monitor interference with the aim of limiting the spread coronavirus-related fake news.

Official NHS guidance is now being displayed at the top of internet search results as part of a crackdown.

The warning comes after a fake account pretending to be a hospital - in Andover, Hampshire - was suspended on Twitter for posting inaccurate information about coronavirus cases.

The account falsely posted it had received a number of patients with coronavirus-like symptoms before it was suspended by the social media giant.

Facebook also followed suit, temporarily banning adverts and listings selling medical face masks, as well as addressing posts that promote fake cures, such as false suggestions drinking bleach is a solution.

On Thursday (March 12), NHS updated its site asking people to stay at home for seven days if they have a high temperature and a new continuous cough.

The NHS website adds: "Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home."

People are asked to phone 111 only if they cannot get help online. The NHS is also asking people to use its 111 online service you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, your condition gets worse and your symptoms do not get better after seven days.

The NHS strongly advises washing your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds and to use a hand sanitiser when you are unable to wash your hands.

Complete and up to date advice from the NHS can be found here.

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