The UK government has announced this morning that it is setting up a unit to counter the online spread of inaccurate and false information relating to the new coronavirus.
The team will be tasked with identifying and, where necessary, responding to claims that aim to deceive or mislead people.
The department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) said it was working with communications experts to ensure the government was prepared to take action as needed.
This will include engaging with social media giants to monitor and curb the spread of disinformation.
“Defending the country from misinformation and digital interference is a top priority,” said DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden. “As part of our ongoing work to tackle these threats we have brought together expert teams to make sure we can respond effectively should these threats be identified in relation to the spread of Covid-19.
“This work includes regular engagement with the social media companies, which are well placed to monitor interference and limit the spread of disinformation, and will make sure we are on the front foot to act if required.”
WHY IT MATTERS
As of the morning of 8 March, there were 273 confirmed cases of the disease in the UK, with over 23,500 people tested. According to the World Health Organization, over 105,500 cases were confirmed globally.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said last week eight possible coronavirus vaccines, supported by UK funding, were under development.
The PM visited on 6 March the Mologic lab in Bedfordshire, where experts are working to develop rapid diagnostic test devices that would allow healthcare workers or even people at home to identify the disease quickly.
That means that they would not have to rely on specialist facilities, as, at the moment, samples need to be sent to a lab for testing. The process can take several days.
THE LARGER PICTURE
The NHS launched an update to 111 online earlier this month to help people get advice about the coronavirus – with one million people already accessing it.
Some organisations have turned to the use of telehealth, including Sheba Medical Center in Israel. In England, as reported by the BBC, hospitals were also asked to carry out more video consultations to help limit the spread of the infection.