KZN health worker probed for fake coronavirus voice note scare
Durban - An employee of the National Health Laboratory Service is expected to be disciplined for spreading a voice note falsely claiming there were a number of patients with the Novel Coronavirus at a Durban hospital.
The Health Department said the note, featuring the voice of a woman, was widely distributed and falsely claimed there was panic due to the presence of “patients with the Novel Coronavirus at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital”.
The hospital has denied the claims.
The department said the note was traced to an employee of the laboratory service. The employee is facing disciplinary action from the service and the hospital.
Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said she hoped the incident would serve as a warning to others.
“This is a time for cool heads, when we should be expending our efforts and resources on creating awareness about the virus, how it should be prevented, and what people should do if they believe they may be exhibiting symptoms.”
She said only Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize was authorised to confirm cases of Coronavirus.
“It is absolutely vital that government speaks with one voice on this matter, so that all information that goes out to the public is truthful, accurate and credible. We’re therefore calling on all of society to exercise restraint and act responsibly.
“While the production and dissemination of fake news is a global problem, it is unbecoming of state employees to involve themselves in such malicious conduct.
“This case should therefore serve as a warning that we will not tolerate anything that serves to undermine all the good work being done by government in responding to this emergency,” the MEC said.
Simelane-Zulu and Mkhize, speaking on Sunday at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall, said they would meet Premier Sihle Zikalala and non-governmental organisations in the province on Wednesday. They would talk to traditional leaders to educate them about the virus this week, and embark on awareness campaigns through radio and local newspapers.
They were speaking after the confirmation of two cases of the disease in KwaZulu-Natal, the first being a Hilton man who tested positive for the virus on his return from a trip to Italy. Another man from Mount Edgecombe has been tested but the results were not known on Monday. He was part of a group of 10 who travelled to Italy.
On Sunday, the wife of the Hilton man also tested positive for the virus.
Mkhize said the woman would be taken to Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, which had been earmarked as a one of several health facilities in the province to treat patients.
As he addressed the session, residents of Abaqulusi Local municipality in Zululand protested and blocked the R69 between iThala Nature Reserve and Pongola, believing the reserve would be used to house sick people being brought from China to South Africa. The protest was broken up after police intervention.
Mkhize said the SA National Defence Force, health and other departments were evaluating areas to house South Africans being brought back from China.
“Once a decision has been made, we will engage all stakeholders that need to be engaged. Before that there is no need to engage anyone; we are just checking to see if the places are suitable. Because of the panic and fear, people are sending the wrong information to the community,” he said.
SA Revenue Services (SARS) commissioner Edward Kieswetter said work would continue as normal at all customs and border posts. Customs officials would be supported by health officials who would screen travellers entering South Africa.