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POFMA direction issued to Goh Meng Seng, HardwareZone over misleading article about XBB variant

A correction direction was also issued to Thailand Medical News, which first published the misleading article about the XBB Omicron variant in Singapore.

POFMA direction issued to Goh Meng Seng, HardwareZone over misleading article about XBB variant

File photo of a healthcare worker preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccine shots. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

SINGAPORE: A correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) has been issued to several parties over an article that made false claims about the XBB Omicron variant.

The recipients of the correction direction are Thailand Medical News, which published the article on Oct 9, Singapore opposition politician Goh Meng Seng, the Facebook page Goh Meng Seng People's Power Party and HardwareZone Forum.

Mr Goh shared the article on his Facebook pages on Oct 10. It was also posted on a HardwareZone forum thread on the same day. 

Recipients of the correction direction are required to insert a notice against the original post or article, with a link to the Government’s clarification. All four parties have done so.

In a media release on Friday (Oct 14), the Ministry of Health (MOH) said there were false and misleading statements in the article titled "BREAKING! Singapore Is Under Attack By The New SARS-CoV-2 XBB Recombinant Variant".

"The article claimed that increased disease severity of COVID-19 is becoming a common occurrence, even in the fully vaccinated. The article also claimed that mortuaries, funeral parlours, and crematoria are facing a ‘pile up’ in cases. These claims are false," said MOH.

It added that there has been no evidence of the XBB variant causing more severe illness than previous variants.

“In fact, our local data in the last two weeks shows that XBB cases are estimated to have a 30 per cent lower risk of hospitalisation compared to Omicron BA.5 variant cases,” the ministry said. “MOH also did not observe increases in COVID-19 deaths over the past month."

The article was first published on the website of Thailand Medical News, as well as on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

"Although Thailand Medical News has since amended the article, the article as first published on Oct 9, 2022, misrepresented the COVID-19 situation in Singapore and had been circulating in private messaging chats and other social media channels, and could cause undue public concern," said the Health Ministry.

The XBB strain is an Omicron subvariant that has also been detected in countries such as Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, India, Japan and the United States since August.

According to Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, executive director at A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute, the first occurrences of the XBB variant documented on GISAID were already in other countries, a few weeks before the first cases in Singapore.

Experts CNA spoke to also said COVID-19 vaccination is still effective in preventing severe illness.

On Tuesday, MOH refuted claims that Singapore is seeing a significant increase in severe COVID-19 cases and deaths due to the XBB subvariant.

The ministry noted that while there has been an increase in local cases driven by the strain, the number of severe cases has remained relatively low. 

Source: CNA/ga(gs)


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