By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean K-Pop star on Wednesday pulled an April Fool's prank announcing that he had contracted coronavirus, and later removed the Instagram post after triggering a backlash.
Kim Jae-joong, a member of boyband JYJ, posted on his Instagram account with 1.9 million followers that he was hospitalised after coming down with the virus.
"I have been infected with COVID-19. It is a result of my negligence, disregarding the cautionary words of the government and my friends," he said.
After several hours, the 34-year-old Asian pop idol edited the post to say he had gone too far for "April Fools' Day", but thanked his fans who had worried about him.
"I don’t think of this as an April Fool’s prank...I wanted to tell you that protecting yourself is protecting the precious people around you," Kim said.
Topics such as “Kim Jae-joong” and “Kim Jae-joong April Fools'” were among the top searches on major South Korean portal Naver as debate heated up online about whether the K-Pop star really was joking or wanted to raise awareness.
"What's wrong with Kim Jae-joong? Does he not perceive the seriousness of the situation right now?" wrote a Twitter user.
A KCDC official told Reuters that it was not considering any punishment for Kim.
Health authorities had earlier on Wednesday warned of any pranks related to the coronavirus.
"Today is April 1, or April Fools' Day that originated from the West. Now is a very grave time," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
"Again, I reiterate that we are not in the social atmosphere to accept any prank calls or misinformation."
Calls to Kim's music label C-Jes Entertainment Corp seeking comment went unanswered.
Under South Korean law, those convicted of deceiving or deluding state officials or state agencies may be jailed for up to five years or face up to 10 million won ($8,124.14) in fines.
Kim was part of boyband TVXQ between 2003 and 2009 before leaving the group with two other members, forming the group JYJ.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 101 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the national tally to 9,887. The death toll rose by eight to 169.
South Korea has largely managed to control the epidemic and drawn worldwide praise for its rigorous testing.
The Korean pop music world is popular across Asia but has a dark underbelly. In 2019, several male K-pop stars and one of the industry's biggest producers were questioned by police over alleged illegal gambling and prostitution.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Mark Heinrich)