Video: Health Minister Robin Swann warns false coronavirus information could spark health scare and anti-Chinese stigma
Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that spreading misinformation about the coronavirus could easily create a public health scare and lead to the stigmatisation of the Irish-Chinese community across the North.
He said a joined-up approach to communications was being taken by public health officials in Ireland and Britain in order to ensure a "clear, coordinated and consistent" response to the novel Coronavirus Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The health minister was responding to an observation by Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd that the circulation of false information around the virus was dangerous.
"It is important that as much information — correct information — as possible goes out to the public, because the last thing we want is misinformation and rumours. The spread of misinformation is dangerous. I encourage the Minister to continue issuing information to Members and the public," said Mr. O'Dowd.
Mr Swann replied: "He used the phrase 'correct information': the last thing we want is a public health scare. I stress to Members that we need to be careful that we do not stigmatise the Chinese community in Northern Ireland. It would be very easy and very dangerous to do that.
"At this minute in time, there are no reported cases in Northern Ireland. As long as we can maintain that, it will be beneficial to us. I stress, however, that, I think, it is a matter of 'When', not 'If'.
"At this time, the work that we are doing along with our colleagues in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland has meant that, so far, we have not had a positive case, but, as I said, it is probably a matter of time rather than anything else.
"Our information that we are getting out there is crucial, and it is important that members of the public contact the helpline, if they think they have symptoms."
The health minister pointed out that a helpline for coronavirus has been established to provide advice for those who may have concerns following a visit to China or South East Asia over the past fortnight.
The number is 0300 555 0119 and can be contacted 24/7.