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Australians are being warned to be wary of coronavirus pandemic misinformation being spread online or through chain messages.
The latest message containing incorrect information was shared widely on Tuesday night ahead of Scott Morrison’s Wednesday morning update on the government’s plans to tackle the continued spread of COVID-19.
As multiple countries across Europe enter an unprecedented lockdown, speculation has been rife over Australia’s next move.
While a tightening of restrictions was announced by Mr Morrison on Wednesday morning, several chain messages earlier claimed to have information from verified sources and touted an impending major lockdown announcement from the prime minister.
The message is thought to have been sent around by thousands of people, but was completely false.
One message suggested a nationwide lockdown would be implemented from Wednesday and would include the shut down of all social gatherings, internal travel restrictions and a ban on all visitors entering Australia.
The message also falsely claimed that all government and private premises except essential services would closed.
The messages prompted several leading journalists across Australia to condemn the spread of the m misinformation.
The ABC’s Elysse Morgan noted one fake message had pulled sections of a government announcement made in Malaysia.
She warned the spread of misinformation could be “as deadly as germs”.
There is a false message going around on social media that Fed Govt is shutting down Australia from tomorrow. ITS FALSE - parts of the message are ripped straight from a Malaysian Govt presser.
Be careful what you spread - misinformation can be as deadly as germs. pic.twitter.com/ROxCYC6B9f
— Elysse Morgan (@ElysseMorgan) March 17, 2020
The Saturday Paper Editor Maddison Connaughton said she’d received multiple messages from “terrified” friends over the fake message.
I've had so many friends message me in the last hour – terrified – because they've been shared some clearly fake "leaked document" saying Australia is going into lockdown
— Maddison Connaughton (@madconnaughton) March 17, 2020
On Wednesday morning ABC Radio also addressed the issue, reminding listeners the verified and correct information would be coming from the prime minister on Wednesday.
“There’s a message going around group chats in Australia about a leaked cabinet briefing. It’s fake news, it’s not true,” said ABC newsreader Matt Bevan.
“It’s not from the Australian government.”
Scott Morrison slams fake messages
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed the false messages being spread on Tuesday about a severe lockdown being imposed, calling the material rubbish.
“There's a lot of ridiculous stuff that's circulating on text messages and the internet about lockdowns,” he said.
“And sadly, even cases of wilful fraud and fraudulent preparation of documents - even recordings alleging to represent Cabinet meeting and things of this nature. Don't believe it - it's rubbish.”
Mr Morrison urged concerned residents to go to health.gov.au and state government websites to their information on new public measures.
Prime Minister announces stricter public measures
On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced new measures to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus including travel restrictions for Australians not to leave the country, a ban on non essential indoor gatherings of 100 people and restrictions on who can visit nursing homes.
“Outdoor areas it is 500 and indoor areas it is 100,” Mr Morrison said of the new public gathering restrictions.
“That is effective now, as of today and those arrangements, in terms of the legal enforcement of those measures are being put in place by the States and Territories.”
Those who have returned from overseas, have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, and those who are not up to date with their flu shots will also not be allowed to visit nursing homes.
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