Cape Town – Those spreading false or inaccurate information pertaining to the coronavirus (Covid-19) could face imprisonment for a period of up to six months and/or be liable to pay a fine.
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, briefed members of the media yesterday on the Disaster Management Act of 2002, evoked after the presidential announcement of a State of Disaster on Sunday.
“Since Sunday, legal representatives of the respective organs of state that play a key role in responding to Covid-19 have been at work to draft the regulations needed to further put into operation measures announced by the president. These regulations are a rule of order that has the force of law. So these regulations need to be acted upon because they are law,” said Dlamani Zuma.
The Disaster Management Act sets forth numerous measures and regulations the government will be implementing to monitor and curb the spread of the virus.
Offences include any statement published on any platform, including online via social media, intended to deceive people about Covid-19, infection status or measures taken by the government to address Covid-19.
Individuals found guilty of this could face prosecution, be liable to pay a fine or both. Any person not infected with Covid-19, who misrepresents that they are, will face a similar penalty.
Premier Alan Winde said that in this time of global crisis, this was a necessary measure.
Centre for Applied Ethics director at Stellenbosch University, Professor Anton Albert van Niekerk, said it was high time people spreading fake news faced severe consequences.
“In the crisis we are facing with Covid-19, it’s one of the most irresponsible things one can do. Apart from its overwhelming task to create circumstances that can effectively contain the virus, the government also has the responsibility of reassuring the population and keeping everyone calm,” noted Van Niekerk. “In such circumstances, it’s criminal to arouse and confuse people with fake stories. I would favour stringent penalties.”
Van Niekerk said the leading ethical challenges now would be to adhere to the directives set out by the president and stay updated through reliable information and sources.
“This is no time for short-term political gains, disinformation or civil disobedience. We face an unprecedented crisis that might eventually rank, as a crisis, with the world wars of the previous century.
“South Africans now have a unique opportunity to once again stand together and make this country work.”