Hong Kong police have arrested a part-time shopping mall security guard for allegedly spreading rumours about multiple staff members catching a fever and taking sick leave.
Police said the man, 37, was arrested for “Transmission of false message[s] by telecommunication.”
“The messages posted have exaggerated the seriousness of the situation and caused panic,” the police said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Police call on all members of the public to join hands in fighting the epidemic instead of propagating misinformation. Such criminal acts breed paranoia in the society and in fact carry severe legal consequences,” the police added.
The guard worked at the Elements mall above the Kowloon MTR Station. He was accused of sharing an audio message on social media on January 21 claiming that five MTR property staff and security guards had fever and called in sick.
The MTR Corporation had said that the content of the audio clip was false: “The Corporation will take action to follow up the spread of rumours with relevant authorities and reserve the right to take further legal action,” it said.
There have been over 24,000 confirmed cases of new coronavirus infections worldwide and over 490 deaths including one in Hong Kong.
The symptoms of the new coronavirus – including a fever – resemble the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed more than 300 people in Hong Kong in 2003.
There have been arrests Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and China over the spread of coronavirus information online, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the police also denied a claim that officers misappropriated government-produced masks. The force said a photo shared online was from 2018.
“As the entire society is fighting hard together against the epidemic, it is regrettable that ill-intentioned people once again disseminated bogus information to discredit the Force, incite hatred towards Police officers and create divisive views in the society,” the police said.
The police said face masks and protective clothing given to frontline officers can barely meet their daily operational needs, though the force has not hoarded any internal resources.