A man uses a body thermal scanner on a student wearing a protective mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the virus at a school in Manila, Philippines, Friday, January 31, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: The Philippines has ordered police to arrest individuals found spreading fake news on the coronavirus.

“We will go after the perpetrators of false information on coronavirus because their acts are inimical to the interest of the general public,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano said on Tuesday.

News and speculation have been rife on Philippine social media, since the virus that has killed hundreds surfaced in Wuhan, China.

The Philippines government has been constantly publishing information to raise awareness on the situation concerning the nCoV, but some online pages and individuals have also been churning out material that is false and malicious.

Some Facebook users share the information they fish out from internet, without bothering to check the source of information, Ano said.

“We need to put a stop to their nuisance activity. Let’s not propagate erroneous information that is more viral than the virus itself,” he said.

Earlier last week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, cautioned that spreading false information that could cause panic is punishable under the country’s laws.

Año reiterated this same warning.

“To those who are intentionally spreading fake news, stop now before we lock you up,” the interior secretary said, adding that freedom of expression has limitations, especially when its exercise threatens the welfare of the public.

According to Jonathan Malaya, Interior Undersecretary, even his department itself had not been spared from fake news.

He said that last Friday, a supposed “infographic” making rounds in Facebook and depicting itself to be coming from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), surfaced.

In that supposed infographic, it was falsely stated that the DILG had ordered mandatory quarantine for all to travellers from 23 countries who have confirmed nCoV cases.

“The unauthorised and patently illegal infographic went viral and caused panic among travellers who wanted to cancel their travel plans because of the misrepresentation of these people. It has become absurd and worrisome,” he said.

Like most countries with known cases of nCoV, the Philippines has been reeling from the direct and indirect effects of the viral contagion. A number of events scheduled in the coming days had also been ordered cancelled by organisers as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Again, we urge the public to trust only official sources of information and to verify first before sharing. Think first before you click,” Malaya added.