COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CIR) – A timely clarification by Sri Lanka President’s Media Division (PMD) on a fake media release announcing countrywide curfew on Monday may have helped people breathe easy but rumours combined with the “fake curfew” caused panic, driving people to stockpile on essentials fearing a second lockdown.
A statement that resembled the official letter head of the PMD with the logo of a private television channel and the purported signature of President’s Media Division Director General Mohan Samaranayake announced the imposition of a countrywide curfew with effect from tomorrow (6) due to the prevailing situation following the detection of 69 close contacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infected 39-year old factory worker woman also tested positive.
The alleged media release that had been circulating purportedly quoted Army Commander Shavendra Silva on the latest COVID-19 update with no such attribution being made to the curfew announcement. The statement also followed the standard PMD style of statements.
The statement was widely shared among WhatsApp groups and many users shared it without verifying.
The PMD issued a media statement promptly in all three languages with an appeal to the public not to be misled by malicious false propaganda spread through social media platforms.
“The government urges the public not to be deceived by the false propaganda being spread on social media platforms that a countrywide curfew will be imposed across the country from tomorrow (6),” it stated.
“All genuine government public notifications will be disseminated only through (the) President’s Media Division and the Department of Government Information which in turn will be published by mainstream media.”
An official at the President’s Office told CIR that the incident is being probed with every attempt being made to identify the creator of the fake media release. The top source told CIR that maximum punishment will be given to any person who creates panic among the public using the current public health emergency.
Meanwhile, Military Spokesman Brigadier General Chandana Wickremasinghe told CIR that the Army Commander has made no statement about the imposition of curfew.
Though the fake news was busted as soon as the possible by government authorities, people were already panicking, assuming there could be a lockdown and at least weeklong curfew.
“It seems possible that curfew may be declared given the unexpected turn of events and the spike in cases, just within the last two days,” said a Sudath Perera, a 46-year-old businessman who was buying essential goods for one month at the Kirulapona market.
“Just check the prices of rice and onion now? The price of rice has increased by Rs. 10 per kilo and onion, by Rs. 20, thanks to a rumour,” he said.
Following the factory worker testing COVID-19 positive, authorities swiftly brought back strict control measures, including closing schools, local lockdowns and increased PCR tests in the Divulapitiya and Minuwangoda areas.
The latest COVID-19 cluster has created speculation among the public that there is community spreading in Sri Lanka, or a second wave. The island nation of 21 million people was hailed by the United Nations in Colombo just three days back for effectively controlling COVID-19.
Army chief Silva has said the authorities are yet to find the initial source that triggered the new cluster, beyond the female factory worker.
Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) on Sunday (4) said there was no information as to how the factory worker may have first contracted the disease.
According to the official government statement on Monday, new cases, all traced to the factory worker, were detected in Jaffna, Kurunagala, and Monaragala.
After the first wave that was effectively contained, Sri Lanka has been reporting only imported cases mostly consisting of migrant workers, until the apparel industry worker tested positive.
Sri Lanka’s first over two-month lock down hit the economy and livelihoods of many, most of them, daily wage earners.
The government was compelled to postpone scheduled parliamentary elections due to the lockdown. The incumbent government’s claim of successfully controlling the COVID-19 situation also contributed to its landslide victory at the August 5 polls.