A number of people have been summoned for questioning as the judiciary cracks down on online rumors regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.
People must fact-check and verify with local health authorities when discussing information on the outbreak, Criminal Investigation Bureau officer Chen Pei-te (陳培德) said yesterday, adding that circulating misinformation is punishable by fines of up to NT$3 million (US$99,174).
A Yunlin County woman surnamed Shih (施) was summoned for questioning for claiming on Facebook that the hospital to which she took her baby for a vaccine had a confirmed 2019-nCoV patient, Chen said.
“Shih was asked by a friend, whom she told that the patient with the ‘Wuhan virus’ was at Chiayi Christian Hospital. This was not true, resulting in an investigation by Yunlin prosecutors,” Chen said.
In another case, people disseminated online that Taichung’s China Medical University Hospital had three confirmed 2019-nCoV patients who were under medical quarantine and that hospital staff were hiding the information from the public, bureau officials said.
Two people who shared the stories with their friends on social media were summoned for questioning by Taichung prosecutors yesterday, after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) verified that there were no such patients at either hospital and deemed them rumors, Chen said.
Screen grab from Facebook
As of press time last night, the CDC and local health authorities nationwide had filed reports with the bureau and other law enforcement agencies regarding 12 cases of misinformation or rumors about the outbreak. Investigators have identified eight people for questioning and investigation by public prosecutors.
These people could have contravened the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), Article 63 of which stipulates that “persons who disseminate rumors or incorrect information concerning epidemic conditions of communicable diseases, resulting in damages to the public or others, shall be fined up to NT$3 million.”
As of press time, there were 10 confirmed 2019-nCoV cases in Taiwan, the CDC said.
Separately yesterday, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement that all prosecutors’ offices and judicial agencies have been ordered to collaborate with local police to conduct checks of stores and warehouses to ensure there is no hoarding of masks or other medical items.
Article 61 of the act stipulates that during epidemic situations, “individuals who hoard resources that the competent authorities have already started to requisite for purposes of price speculation or to force up prices under serious circumstances” could face a jail term of up to seven years and fines of up to NT$5 million, it said.
People who have been infected must follow orders from health authorities to prevent transmission to other people, it added, citing Article 62 of the act, which stipulates that failure “to comply with instructions by the competent authorities and have thus infected others shall be sentenced to imprisonment for up to three years, criminal detention, or a fine up to NT$500,000.”
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