A viral social media post terrifying parents into believing they will not be able to stay with children who show symptoms of coronavirus has been exposed as a hoax.
The post, which has been shared thousands of times, reads: "Biggest wake up call ever.
“If your child gets this virus, they're going to hospital alone in a van with people they don't know to a room they don’t know to be with people they don't know.
“You will be at home without them in their time of need. Think about it, stay in."
Celebrities including Kerry Katona and Rochelle Humes shared the post, with Katona writing: “PLEASE STAY AT HOME!!!!!!!!!!! I was sent this which has scared the sh** out of me but I tell you what I know I’m not leaving my house! I’m a mother of 5 my anxiety is through the roof!
“I haven’t posted this to scare people but seeing pics of bloody idiots in groups sunbathing it feels people are still not getting what it going on! Please stay safe everyone sending you all love and light.”
Katona’s post has now been flagged by Instagram as containing false information.
Gillian Johnston is a mum-of-two from Buckinghamshire. She told Yahoo News UK: “I read the post and it terrified me. It freaked me out so much I kept bursting into tears. Parents have enough to worry about at the moment without extra scaremongering.”
Jackie Wilson saw the post on her Facebook page and said: “However well intentioned, this horrifies me – and I’m compliant. Shaming and instilling fear is not acceptable, whatever the motives.”
The NHS has since updated its guidance on who can visit patients affected by coronavirus. A parent or appropriate adult can accompany a child and an immediate family member or carer can visit a person receiving end-of-life care.
Social media misinformation
The scam is just one of multiple fake stories that have spread across social media during the coronavirus outbreak, but the government is determined to clamp down on such stories.
Tory MP Damian Collins has warned against sharing coronavirus-related “fake news” and called for knowingly peddling misinformation related to the COVID-19 outbreak to be made an offence.
He has also partnered with Infotagion, a free-to-access website, to launch an online service to combat falsehoods during the pandemic.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
Collins, former chairman of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has partnered with Infotagion, a free-to-access website which allows members of the public to post screenshots of coronavirus-related information they have received online.
A team organised by Collins – who led the government investigation into disinformation and fake news – will check what users submit against official sources and give traffic-light answers on whether it is true or false.
He said: “Lots of the debate around fake news has been in the political context, around election campaigning, but here we are seeing it in a public health crisis.
“In some ways, this is the first public health crisis in the age of social media disinformation, and therefore it requires a different response.”
The MP said it should be an offence for someone to “knowingly and maliciously spread disinformation” that could be harmful to public health.
“I think [it] should be an offence to do that, and should be an offence for social media companies not to take that content down,” he said.
The service, in collaboration with media and technology company Iconic Labs, will provide users with links to trusted information sources, such as the World Health Organization, or official government guidance.