This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
As of Monday, February 3, the Wuhan coronavirus has claimed more than 300 lives and infected over 17,000 in China. The first recorded death outside China was reported in the Philippines over the weekend, while cases of confirmed infections continue to rise in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Experts believe the epidemic can soon turn into a pandemic, leading many all over the world to panic. This has caused many falsehoods to spread all over social media, including an outrageous one from Malaysia that claims the novel coronavirus will turn patients into the actual walking dead.
“The claim that individuals infected with this virus will behave like zombies is not true… Patients can recover,” the Ministry tweeted.
A statement by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said that six people have been arrested for spreading fake news about the coronavirus.
This zombie rumour is just the latest episode in fake coronavirus news making their rounds on Malaysian social media. Other puzzling false stories about the issue include a prisoner who suddenly died after eating a mandarin orange supposedly infected by the Wuhan virus.
Thanks to alarmist (and totally untrue) social media posts about the coronavirus, the MCMC has been busy debunking fake news on its twitter account on a daily basis.
According to Malaysia’s Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, the spread of fake news surrounding the coronavirus is a “more critical” issue than the actual spread of the virus in Malaysia. He also urged the public to get their information from reliable sources instead of viral social media posts.
The Malaysian government is not the only one troubled by misinformation stoking rampant concerns about everything Chinese. Worries about Chinese packages acting as agents of virus transmission also had e-commerce retailer Shopee Malaysia clarify in a Twitter post that it’s highly unlikely for the coronavirus to spread through parcels shipped from China.
As the issue stokes anxieties in the local community, misinformation about the coronavirus reflects the dark underbelly of Malaysian society, where latent racism against the Chinese routinely manifests itself in racial politics. The coronavirus scare is now bringing these anti-Chinese sentiments to the surface. For example, circulating on social media are posts accusing the Chinese of “causing deadly viruses by eating exotic meat.”
In Malaysia, falsehoods about the coronavirus seem to be as contagious as the virus itself.
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