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Simon Coveney criticises WhatsApp messages about lockdown that are spread 'deliberately to cause panic'

No: that WhatsApp message about a military lockdown, that went viral at the weekend, is not true.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has warned people to be careful about where they get their information from about the coronavirus outbreak and government measures, adding that false messages are being created “deliberately to cause panic”.

This comes after a second message about a military lockdown has gone viral in Ireland across the messaging service WhatsApp, which has stoked fear and panic among people. 

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Defence Forces spokespeople have dismissed the ‘military lockdown’ messages as false and unhelpful. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also warned people to use official resources to get updates about the actions government would take to stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

“I am urging everyone to please stop sharing unverified info on WhatsApp groups. These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage,” he tweeted.

A number of messages have been widely shared on WhatsApp that claimed there would be a ‘Status Red’ lockdown imposed by the army from Monday – that’s today.

The Defences Forces clarified that there was no truth to this message, and that the message was “unhelpful and irresponsible”.

There is no military lockdown today. As was announced by government last week, schools, colleges and cultural institutions have closed this week and next week.

A decision was made last night to close pubs and clubs. The Restaurants Association of Ireland is now calling for cafés and restaurants to close as well. 

What is happening today, is that members of the Defence Forces are assembling at their HQ, to discuss measures that will be put in place.

It’s understood that they will move to a Status Yellow level of preparation; a statement said that they “stand ready to aid civil authorities”.

The army has already begun helping the HSE with tasks such as contact tracing to help identify people who have been in contact with a confirmed case.

A second message has now began circulating over the weekend, which talks about a “full lockdown” being announced at 11 today, and which claims will come into effect from tomorrow.

It also claims that shops will only be opened for a certain amount of time each day, the army will enforce this measure, and that certain products should be stockpiled.

A Defence Forces spokesperson said that “there’s no truth to that”.

It’s important to note that in Italy and Spain, where lockdowns have been announced  by the government after huge surges in confirmed Covid-19 cases, people are being told not to congregate in the streets or not to meet at one another’s homes – but shops, bakeries, groceries, and pharmacies are still open and stocked. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that “a number” of people called him about this second lockdown message last night. He said that it was false, and spread “deliberately to cause panic”.

“Be careful with where you get your news from because unfortunately there are people spreading false rumours,” he said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The number of people who called me last night to ask whether the country was going to go into lockdown 11 o’clock this morning because of rumours that were spread on social media deliberately I might add, by people trying to cause panic.

“People need to think carefully about how and where they get information and advice in times like we are now living in,” he added.

He said that it was a challenge for people to filter through the amount of information out there about Covid-19. 

“One of the challenges here for the public is that there is an information overload,” Coveney said, listing the number of media appearances made my ministers over the weekend.

Given that, he urged people to get their information from official sources. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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