KARACHI: A fake “emer­gency” notification is doing the rounds on social media, claiming that Pakistan’s health ministry has directed the public to avoid crowded places till the end of March.

The first paragraph of the message that contains multiple spelling errors reads: “Ministry of health’s emergency notification to the public that the coronavirus influenza outbreak this time is very very serious & fatal. There’s no cure once you are infected.”

Another slightly altered version of the same message attributes the alert to “DOH Health Bulletin to the Public”.

The text does not match the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) advisories on novel coronavirus.

So far the NIH has issued two advisories, one for health staff and institutions and the other for travellers.

The latest travel advisory, dated Jan 28, was issued after the increase in the number of deaths due to the virus in China and the rapid spread of infections to many other countries.

Same alert, different countries

The same message also went viral in other countries. According to international media outlets, the text has also been circulated in India and Canada, claiming that the alert came from their respective health authorities.

Multiple users have copy-pasted the same message across social media platforms around the world.

The fake message also suggests a prevention method which is to keep one’s throat moist. “Do not let your throat dry up. Thus do not hold your thirst because once your membrane in your throat is dried, the virus will invade into your body within 10 mins,” it reads.

Official public advisories mention no such prevention related to the throat and advise precautions such as maintaining personal hygie­ne, wearing masks and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

The alert also claims that children are more prone to coronavirus. The health authorities have not specified any age group that is more vulnerable to it.

The new virus — which initially infected people in the Chinese city of Wuhan and is now emerging in many Asian countries as well as the Middle East, Europe, Australia and the United States — has so far claimed lives of 106 people in China with more than 2,700 cases since its outbreak in late December. There is no vaccine as yet against the novel coronavirus strain.

So far, there has been no confirmed case of the virus in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020