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Correction directions issued over claims of Singaporeans contracting Wuhan coronavirus, shortage of masks

Correction directions issued over claims of Singaporeans contracting Wuhan coronavirus, shortage of masks

Many were seen queueing at a medical supply store at Sturdee Rd in Singapore on Jan 29 to purchase surgical masks. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Several correction directions have been issued over false claims to do with the Wuhan coronavirus situation in Singapore, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office said.

One article, posted by a website called AB-TC City News on Thursday (Jan 30), claimed that five Singaporeans had contracted the virus without travelling to China.

Another claim by alternative news site States Times Review said that Singapore had run out of face masks.

Both claims are not true, said the Government on its fact-checking website Factually, adding that there has been no local transmission of the coronavirus so far and Singapore has not run out of masks.

READ: Wuhan virus: 3 new cases confirmed in Singapore, bringing tally to 13

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong has instructed the POFMA Office, which is responsible for the administration of the law, to issue a correction direction against AB-TC City News. 

The direction requires the website to carry a correction notice alongside the article, said the POFMA Office in a statement on Friday.

Correction directions were also issued to lawyer Lim Tean and a Facebook page "Say No to PAP" for sharing the article on Facebook.

Both parties have taken down their Facebook posts, but are still required to carry a correction notice on their respective pages.

"This will ensure that persons who had viewed their posts are informed of the facts," said the statement.

As of Friday morning, both Mr Lim and Say No to the PAP have published correction notices on their Facebook pages. AB-TC City News also published a correction notice on its website.


Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing also instructed the POFMA Office to issue a correction direction to Mr Alex Tan, a 32-year-old Singaporean who runs the States Times Review website and Facebook page, for falsely claiming that Singapore has run out of face masks.

The States Times Review also said that "Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Transport Dr Lam Pin Min confirmed that Singapore had run out of face masks, and insinuated that Dr Lam Pin Min was blaming Singaporeans for 'insensible and irresponsible' use of surgical masks", said the Factually article.

"Mr Tan also posted that Singapore had run out of masks since last Sunday, less than three days after the first confirmed case," it said.

READ: Singapore households to get 4 face masks each amid worries over Wuhan virus

READ: Supply of masks in Singapore 'enough' if managed properly: Chan Chun Sing

Factually cited examples of Dr Lam "clearly pictured in a warehouse which showed part of the Government stockpile of surgical masks" and Mr Chan saying the Singapore Armed Forces will be packing millions of surgical masks to be distributed to households.

"This clearly indicates that Singapore has not run out of face masks for Singaporeans," it said.

A targeted correction direction was also issued to Facebook, which means it has to publish a correction notice to all users in Singapore "who access the falsehood through its service".

"This is so that users who see the falsehood on a platform also see the correction notice on that platform," said the POFMA Office.

On Friday morning, the notice could be seen at the bottom of the States Times Review's post.

"Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information," the notice said.

Facebook last year issued a correction notice for another States Times Review post, in a first for the platform.

READ: Supply of masks in Singapore sufficient if used 'sensibly and responsibly': Lam Pin Min

Thirteen people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Singapore so far. They are all Chinese nationals who travelled from Wuhan.

On Thursday, the authorities announced a lifting of POFMA temporary exemptions, citing the evolving situation with the coronavirus.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Search, Baidu and HardwareZone will no longer be exempted from general correction directions under POFMA, "given the evolving situation with the Wuhan coronavirus", the authorities said on Thursday.

READ: POFMA temporary exemptions to be lifted, move 'critical' given evolving coronavirus situation: MCI

Several Internet intermediaries were temporarily exempted from having to comply with correction direction requirements when POFMA came into effect on October 2019.

Since the Act came into effect, multiple correction directions have been issued including to Mr Lim and the States Times Review, as well as to Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer and the Singapore Democratic Party.

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Source: CNA/nc(cy)


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