22 October 2016
Shoppers return to Maritime Square in Tsing Yi after Thursday's false alarm over a suspected MERS carrier. Photo: HKEJ
Shoppers return to Maritime Square in Tsing Yi after Thursday's false alarm over a suspected MERS carrier. Photo: HKEJ

Police warn against spreading MERS rumors

Health officials and the Hong Kong police are warning the public that spreading rumors about MERS is illegal.

The warning comes as the fallout from a false alarm over a suspected MERS carrier begins to sink in, hours after it caused panic.

Apple Daily is reporting that MERS rumors have been spreading online, prompting health authorities to report the matter to the police.

The Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau is investigating.

Dr. Leung Ting-hung, controller of the Center for Health Protection (CHP), is calling for calm, saying Hong Kong has not had a confirmed case.

On Thursday, Leung said a 22-year-old woman who had undergone emergency testing for suspected MERS infection, came back negative for the MERS virus.

But the announcement did not stop panicked Tsing Yi residents from putting up their defenses.

A Quality HealthCare clinic earlier visited by the woman when she experienced flu-like symptoms after a trip to South Korea was barricaded and another was partially blocked.

The MTR Tsing Yi station where the clinic is located was scrubbed and a shopping mall connected to the station was deserted.

MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) has killed nine people and infected 122 in South Korea, according to reports.

The virus, first reported in 2012 and linked mostly to Saudi Arabia, causes flu-like symptoms.

In 2003, Hong Kong was struck by SARS which killed more than 700 people worldwide and prompted extraordinary measures including a crackdown on rumor mongering and false reporting.

A 14-year-old boy was ordered by a court to a 12-month supervision by the welfare department for spreading SARS rumors.

On Wednesday, a Facebook post from a group calling itself  “I am a Hongkonger” apologized for “mistakenly” putting out rumors about the Tsing Yi incident.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Dr. Ho Pak-leung said the government should release MERS test results immediately to prevent speculation.

Meanwhile, CHP said 45 of 46 suspected cases it tested came back negative for MERS, with a 33-year-old man awaiting his test result.

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