A South African man has been lambasted for spreading fake news on Twitter about a coronavirus death in South Africa, which he claims a local hospital group is covering up.
The novel coronavirus was on Tuesday given the official name COVID-19.
A man identifying himself as Mark Smit (@MarkSmit222) took to Twitter late last week, claiming that “his good friend’s colleague” had died at 1pm on Friday at a hospital in Cape Town “after being exposed to another colleague who returned from China last week”.
"The hospital refused to say coronavirus; they claim it’s swine flu," he alleged.
Smit's claim has been denied, with the deceased having tested negative for COVID-19, while the "other colleague" had not even been out of South Africa.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt in Bellville, Cape Town, where the man died, as well as ZTE Corporation, the Chinese company where the deceased worked, have all slammed Smit for irresponsibly spreading panic and falsehoods – and for disrespecting the family of the deceased.
This is against a backdrop of more than 1,110 COVID-19 deaths so far, mainly in China, and more than 43,000 cases reported across the globe.
“I have noted the comment on Twitter by Mr Mark Smit. However, I am not sure in which capacity Mr Smit is making a posthumous diagnosis of the deceased,” said NICD communications manager Sinenhlanhla Jimoh.
“We urge the public to disregard rumours and discourage the further spread of these fear-mongering rumours. We will inform the public should there be a positive case.
“For the record, there has been no positive case of COVID-19 nor death in South Africa. We have tested 63 individuals as of this morning [Wednesday] for COVID-19 and they have all come out negative.”
Jimoh added that "swine flu" refers to a disease in pigs but that Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 is sometimes incorrectly referred to as swine flu. This type of influenza is “a common infection” and “not a notifiable disease".
Jessica King, public relations manager for the South African branch of ZTE Corporation, said: “While ZTE Corporation South Africa can confirm the tragic passing on Friday last week of a contractor in our Cape Town office, there was a negative result for coronavirus.”
She said the contractor had returned home from a private cruise trip and was not on ZTE business. “We are of course deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the deceased’s family at this difficult time.
"The allegations surfacing on social media that this incident is somehow related to the COVID-19 are misleading, disrespectful to the family and totally unsubstantiated.
"Any link to COVID-19 is false and we can only assume anyone still reporting on this is purposefully attempting to sow unnecessary panic."
She added that the “other contractor mentioned in Smit’s posts has now fully recovered from his illness and is a local employee who had not travelled out of South Africa".
King said the name and other personal details of the contractor are being withheld to respect the family’s rights. She called on the public to "respect the family’s privacy during this difficult period".
Mediclinic Southern Africa also did not disclose details of the man who died.
“We can confirm that we have no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus,” the company told TimesLIVE.