The Dubai Police cautioned residents against sharing unconfirmed and unofficial information about COVID-19 on social media. The move was made apparently in light of yesterday’s lockdown of two hotels in neighboring Abu Dhabi.
In a town hall meeting at the Dubai Police Officers Club held in conjunction with the Philippine Consulate General’s Office, Lt. Khalid Mohammed B. Banasser, police spokesperson, said spreading disinformation is considered a national security threat and would be dealt with the full extent of the law.
“That will be very, very dangerous. The person can be blacklisted. Any information that can demean the name and security of the country is very dangerous; the punishment is very high,” Banasser told reporters.
“If you have any information and you spread it, you must know exactly where it is coming from, else you will be responsible for disinformation. It is a national security threat and the punishment is very, very high,” he added.
Noting how unverified information could easily go viral on social media, Banasser said an official channel has been put in place by the UAE government, with various agencies working through a one-team approach.
“There will be an official release for all information,” he said.
Any updates about the COVID-19 will be transmitted to the different embassies and consulates general for proper dissemination, he said.
Banasser also called on residents to call 901 toll-free for suspicious social media posts; and 999 for emergency incidents.
“Any doubt you have, please call 901. The 999 emergency lines are open. We are available 24 hours,” Banasser said.
Meantime, Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes likewise urged the community to “please refrain from spreading information unless you are forwarding information taken from verified government authorities.”
“Unofficial information may be open to doubts on their veracity and thus the greater the responsibility of sharing such,” he said.
On Friday, Feb. 28, Reuters reported that Two luxury Abu Dhabi hotels were in lockdown as part of efforts to isolate guests after two Italian members of an ongoing international cycling event, the UAE Tour, were suspected of contracting the coronavirus.
The final two stages of the UAE Tour have subsequently been cancelled.
Guests at the two hotels were screened following concerns they might have interacted with the Italians.
The hotels were named in the Reuters report as the W Abu Dhabi and the Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, both on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
The Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, has meantime affirmed that laboratory tests conducted for 167 cases of quarantined contacts of the two cases of COVID-19, have returned negative, Emirates News Agency (ENA) said in an announcement issued at 12:26 am today.
ENA quoted DoH-AD as saying it was “still monitoring the condition of the remaining cases of contacts, whose lab test findings will be available within the next few hours.”
In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) and other competent authorities, the DoH-AD has applied precautionary quarantine and preventive measures on all participants in the UAE Tour and placed them in hotels on Yas Island for testing.
The health authorities are still monitoring the health condition of the contacts to ensure safety of the community, the statement added. Exact number of people who were screened was not immediately available.
Meantime, Ronald Precilla, information security professional, who also heads Bayanihan Council, an aggrupation of Filipino organizations in Abu Dhabi, said they have lined up activities to further raise awareness about COVID-19 in light of these latest developments.
“We are currently doing an education campaign. Yesterday, during the Bayanihan Council meeting, we had a brief awareness campaign and discussion. A Bayanihan Whatsapp Group for leaders has been put in place as well,” Precilla said.
He added that a focused session will be conducted by Filipino doctors this week in Abu Dhabi, adding that a social media awareness campaign on the council official page has likewise been launched.
“The UAE is our second home and we know about the government efforts to maintain a healthy environment. We are relieved that UAE has the right facility, technology and resources to keep us safe,” Precilla said.
For his part, Art “Popoy” Los Banos, founding member of the Filipino Social Club (FilSoc) in Dubai said: “We have to follow the rules and policies of our host country. We should be very careful in sharing information on social media even with a good intention to warn people. Only Dubai and federal government announcements should be cascaded to internal and external stakeholders.”
There are approximately 750,000 Filipinos in the UAE – a large number is employed in the hospitality industry. It was not immediately known whether the two hotels were still in lockdown as of presstime.