A Queensland MP is livid about a fake health warning telling people to stay away from Brisbane suburbs with large Chinese populations due to the coronavirus threat.
Duncan Pegg has expressed disgust over what he describes as a "racist" hoax, drawn up to look like an official health department alert and warning against non-essential travel to four suburbs that are home to many Chinese families.
The post, circulated on Facebook and Chinese social media platform WeChat, warned Queensland had issued a "level 3 health warning for coronavirus" and people should not travel to Sunnybank, Sunnybank Hill (sic), Runcorn and Eight Mile Plains.
This media release is 100% FAKE!!! FAKE!!! FAKE!!! I don't normally like to give any credence to ppl who seek to malign our community but wanted to make things clear this time.
To get latest updates go to the Queensland Health website & FB page. Any questions call 13HEALTH. pic.twitter.com/mIW2XVKTH7
— Duncan Pegg MP (@DuncanPeggMP) January 27, 2020
It noted those areas had a "ratio of 1 to 3 non-Chinese Australians".
Mr Pegg, whose electorate takes in targeted suburbs including Sunnybank, says there is no heightened threat and he's upset but not surprised, with similar campaigns run in the past targeting his multicultural community.
"For someone to make light of this, and to put out this racist, fake media release effectively misinforms the community and causes a lot of fear and anxiety," he told ABC radio Tuesday.
Other comments being widely spread on social media have suggested coronavirus patients are from suburbs with greater levels of Asian immigration.
According to the most recent Census results, 23 per cent of people identified as being of Chinese ancestry in the state electoral division of Stretton, which includes the suburb of Sunnybank Hills.
And in the neighbouring division of Sunnybank – which encapsulates Sunnybank, Runcorn and Eight Mile Plains – more than 20 per cent of people indicated they were of Chinese ancestry.
1/2 @NSWHealth has been made aware of a social media post that is being widely circulated warning people to not consume certain foods or visit certain locations in Sydney.
This post has not originated from NSW Health or any related entity... pic.twitter.com/GcvM4aG4ga
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) January 28, 2020
Meanwhile NSW Health has also issued a warning about a social media post making the rounds online “warning people to not consume certain foods or visit certain locations in Sydney”.
“This post has not originated from NSW Health or any related entity,” the department said on Tuesday afternoon.
“Further, there is no such entity as the ‘Department of Diseasology Parramatta’.
“NSW Health would like to assure the community that the locations mentioned in this post pose no risk to visitors, and there have been no ‘positive readings’ at train stations.”
Five coronavirus cases in Australia
Nationally, there are five confirmed cases of coronavirus – four in NSW and one in Victoria. A 21-year-old UNSW student became the fourth case in NSW and fifth in Australia after she tested positive on Monday.
The woman flew into Sydney Airport on Thursday on the last Australian-bound direct flight out of the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, before the airport was shut down.
The student and three men who previously tested positive are being treated at Sydney's Westmead Hospital.
The Melbourne patient, a man in his 50s, is being treated at the Monash Medical Centre.
There are no confirmed cases in Queensland, with four people returning negative tests.
Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says efforts have been made to contact four other people in the state who were on the same flight as the Victorian patient who tested positive.
Schools grapple with virus threat as students return
A Brisbane boarding school is making students who've recently returned from China, the epicentre of the viral outbreak, undergo health checks before they're allowed into class.
Stuartholme School at Toowong has told parents that 10 students from mainland China will be quarantined to a single floor of its boarding house for 14 days.
The Toowong girls' school said the students will undergo daily checks by a nurse before being allowed to attend class.
Meanwhile NSW Health says most children are OK to return to school unless they are unwell or have had contact with a person diagnosed with coronavirus.
"Unless a child is showing signs of illness or there has been an exposure to the virus, then the children are safe to go to school," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said Tuesday.
However some NSW private schools have advised students who have travelled to China or been in contact with anyone who has been in China in the past fortnight to stay home.
Kambala girls' school in Sydney's eastern suburbs on Monday wrote to parents advising that students in such circumstances should stay home for 14 days.
"We still request a medical clearance on return to the school but now ask for you to remain at home during the potential incubation period," principal Shane Hogan said in an email.
Australia's education minister Dan Tehan has chastised those schools forcing healthy students returning from China to stay away, suggesting Australia must “send a message” that the country is still open to international students.
The coronavirus outbreak also poses a significant threat to Australian universities, both in relation to the potential spread of the virus and in economic terms.
There are roughly 164,000 Chinese students who attend university in Australia, pumping billions of dollars into the national economy.
Coronavirus began in the central China city of Wuhan in December last year and as of Tuesday afternoon has officially killed at least 100 people, and infected more than 2750 globally, most of them in China.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.
Australian authorities are urging anyone who has developed a fever or respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to China should see their GP immediately.
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