Three women are under investigation and face likely charges for circulating rumors after their messages led to panic buying of toilet paper nationwide, while a Taipei police official has been punished for leaking information related to the home quarantine of a Taipei resident, officials said yesterday.
The three women allegedly claimed on messaging app Line that the paper pulp used to make toilet paper is also used in the production of masks, which would result in an imminent shortage, as stocks of masks have already been depleted amid a battle to contain the 2019 novel coronavirus, the Criminal Investigation Bureau said.
The messages were quickly disseminated on Line and other social media platforms, which led to a run on toilet paper and paper towels at grocery stores and supermarkets as people began hoarding the items.
Due to the panic buying and shortages in many cities, government officials refuted the rumor in a statement saying that “the ingredients for toilet paper are different from those for producing masks.”
People should not worry and there is no need for hoarding, “as the supply of materials to make toilet paper is at normal levels and there is no shortage,” the Ministry of Justice said in a statement yesterday.
The three suspects were questioned for allegedly circulating the original rumor and they face charges of contravening provisions of Article 63 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which stipulates penalties for “spreading rumors in a way that is sufficient to undermine public order and peace,” bureau Third Investigation Corps head Hsiao Juei-hao (蕭瑞豪) said.
The suspects are part of a home products direct-sales business group: a 69-year-old woman surnamed Liao (廖) and her two subordinates, both surnamed Chen (陳), aged 40 and 33, Hsiao said.
The trio likely aimed to benefit financially from the rumor, as their wares include toilet paper and paper towels, Hsiao added.
Meanwhile, a Taipei deputy police chief surnamed Liao (廖) received a major demerit and was transferred to another post for leaking the information of a person who was ordered into 14-day home quarantine after returning from a visit to China.
Chinese-language media reported that the deputy chief was stationed at Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) Police Precinct and that he will likely face charges, as the case has been referred to prosecutors to investigate a breach of the Personal Data Protection Act (個人資料保護法).
The deputy chief was reportedly checking on a Taipei resident under home quarantine, one of Taiwan’s confirmed cases of the coronavirus, when he allegedly took photographs of the person’s file, which included their name, home address and other personal information.
He reportedly shared the information on Line with a few friends, one of whom then allegedly posted the data in other groups and on Facebook.
“We must not leak the personal information of people infected with the virus, because that will cause stigmatization and lead to confrontation in society. Then people who should be quarantined will try to hide their health situation. If many people do so, then it will seriously damage efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said.
Separately yesterday in Kaohsiung, health officials reported that 84 people had all tested negative for the coronavirus after their 14-day home quarantine ended.
A Taiwanese businessman in his 50s on Jan. 21 returned from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak — with a slight fever and symptoms of a respiratory ailment. As a possible infection case, health officials ordered him into a 14-day home quarantine, but the next day he defied the order and went out to socialize with friends, including eating meals and going to a Kaohsiung dance hall.
After authorities discovered his actions, the 84 people who had close contact with him that day were ordered into 14-day home quarantine and he was fined NT$300,000.
However, Kaohsiung prosecutors decided not to charge him with breaching the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), as his actions did not cause any coronavirus infections and there was insufficient evidence to prove that he knowingly attempted to spread the disease.
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