MANILA, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines on Wednesday warned its citizens against spreading fake news about the COVID-19 on April Fools' Day, saying that dangerous misinformation puts people at risk, and adds anxieties and fears among people.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire encouraged Filipinos to always fact-check and to obtain information about the COVID-19 only from legitimate sources.
"Remember, lives and safety are at stake each time you click and share on social media. Today is April 1, April Fools' Day, we are warning the public, please do not spread false information," Vergeire said in a virtual coronavirus media briefing held on Wednesday.
Vergeire said wrongful information might mislead and put people at risk while dealing with the COVID-19 situation facing the country. "It will worsen the situation," she added.
The highly infectious disease has so far infected 2,311 people in the Philippines. Fifty patients have recovered and 96 have died so far.
The Philippines has taken serious measures to curb the spread of fake news about the disease, threatening to imprison and impose hefty fine against anybody caught peddling wrong information to mislead the public.
Philippine Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said "these rumors being spread via social media platforms and being sent via messaging applications are all fake news."
"I advise the public to refrain from forwarding or posting rumors like these as they unnecessarily cause panic and fuel detrimental behavior like hoarding. This does not help," he added.
Fake news gripped Metro Manila and many parts of the country after the government imposed a 30-day lockdown on mid-March in a drastic move to halt the spread of the disease. False news triggered a panic button that sent people rushing to buy groceries and hygiene essentials such as alcohols and face masks.
A new law that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed on March 24 punishes "individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms" with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than 10,000 pesos (roughly 196 U.S. dollars) but not more than 1 million pesos (roughly 19,599 U.S. dollars), or both.