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Medical staff in protective suits treat a patient with pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 27, 2020. Picture taken January 27, 2020. REUTERS

THE new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak in central China is a grave matter.

Up to yesterday, close to 6,000 confirmed cases in mainland China and 132 deaths have been reported since it was first identified in Wuhan City in mid-December.

Despite China’s intense efforts to contain the virus, including enforcing a lockdown in several cities in Hubei province, it has spread to other countries. Suspected and confirmed cases worldwide exceed 6,000, CNN reported.

The reach of the 2019-nCoV is far and wide; it has overtaken other headlines such as the United States-China trade war, Brexit, Trump’s peace plan for the Palestinians, and even the Australia bushfires.

Amidst concerns of a potential global epidemic, another epidemic appears to be brewing. With the world being so interconnected as it is now, fake news about “the origins” of 2019-nCoV is fast spreading.

The story says the Chinese government “engineered” the 2019-nCoV as a biological weapon to “kill off” the Uighurs, but the virus was accidentally released in Wuhan City. Preposterous it is, but it raised hackles.

Another even more ludicrous claim — an Instagram post that said the virus was “God’s revenge for China’s persecution of the Uighurs”.

On Facebook, postings of “confirmed cases” in Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Terengganu and Penang are being viralled.

One cannot help but think that such postings should not see the light of day. But they have, and there are people who believe them without question.

Is it human nature to believe the worst? If so, it certainly lends credence to what some cynics are saying about humans — “they’re not always the kind, sensible, good-natured creatures they have fashioned themselves to be”.

Surely by now we are able to discern between the fake and genuine? What we consume voraciously from questionable sites should not be taken as gospel truth.

There’s no disputing the Internet is a reservoir of genuine information, but it can also be used as a tool to spread rumours that cause unnecessary panic and derision. The 2019-nCoV outbreak is real. Human lives are at stake.

The World Health Organisation has stopped short of calling it a global health emergency. Spare a thought for those infected with the virus, or the families who have lost their loved ones. Or offer a prayer to those who died, not indulge in some conspiracy theory.

We should be thinking of ways to prevent the virus from spreading or helping to find a cure for it. As a responsible newspaper, we laud police efforts to clamp down on the purveyors of fake news. We have laws, they should be made to face the music.

This Leader has been consistent in the paper’s principled stand to communicate only the truth so that the public is made aware of the facts — which can be ugly or beautiful. Negative narratives we entertain not, nor gossip.

Today’s Internet-driven age has made it possible for information to be available at our fingertips. Understandably, the influence of social media can be persuasive and believable, but as thinking and intelligent beings, we should not be so gullible.

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