Criminal charges opened against man who claimed Covid-19 swabs are contaminated

06 April 2020 - 11:53 By Iavan Pijoos
A Cape Town man, whose identity is known to TimesLIVE, has been spreading fake news on Facebook about Covid-19 testing - just as the government is sending out officials to test door-to-door for the virus.
A Cape Town man, whose identity is known to TimesLIVE, has been spreading fake news on Facebook about Covid-19 testing - just as the government is sending out officials to test door-to-door for the virus.
Image: 123rf.com/betonstudio

Criminal charges have formally been opened against a Cape Town man who claimed that the swabs used to test for Covid-19 were themselves contaminated with the coronavirus.

The charge were laid on Monday by DA MP Siviwe Gwarube, who said spreading fake news was against the Covid-19 disaster management regulations and warned of potential jail time for anyone found guilty of doing so.

The regulations are clear that transgressors can be jailed for up to six months. Laying these criminal charges is meant to send a strong message to South Africans that the spreading of fake news will not be tolerated,” she said.

Gwarube said the mass screenings currently being rolled out in various parts of South Africa were an important step towards understanding the true extent and reach of local transmissions. She said the health department needed to reach people where they are in order to screen them and refer them to the nearest health facility for full testing.

She said it was not true that the community health workers would use swabs or draw blood. Their work is to screen South Africans who may be showing symptoms and to bring services closer to where they are, she said.

Earlier, Western Cape premier Alan Winde strongly denied the man's claims.

The man took to Facebook on Sunday, claiming that Covid-19 swabs in the country have been contaminated. TimesLIVE has taken a decision not to identify him as a possible criminal case is under investigation.

The man said in a video that the government would be sending thousands of officials “door to door” to test citizens for Covid-19. “Do not under any circumstances allow them to test them. There is a possibility that the swabs are contaminated with Covid-19. If they stick the swabs into your mouth and up your nose, there is a strong possibility to spread the virus. Don’t take the risk. Deny being tested,” he said.

Winde said he reported the matter to the police on Sunday but had not formally laid a charge.

“We strongly condemn spreading fake news. The Western Cape government has released messaging on our social media channels to indicate that the content of the video is false,” he said.

“Testing is performed with a mouth swab, which is clinically safe and not contaminated.

“We are aware of other similar messages being shared about testing and we urge people not to share this kind of content as it causes widespread fear and panic,” added Winde.

“It could also result in people not wanting to test out of fear or mistrust, which could have a severe impact on their health and the health of others.”

National police spokesperson Brig Vishnu Naidoo was not available for comment on Monday morning.


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