Police in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus was first detected, have questioned eight people for posting what authorities call “rumors” about the outbreak of the deadly strain of viral pneumonia in the central Chinese city.
“Some internet users have been publishing and forwarding fake news without verification, which has had an adverse social impact,” the Wuhan municipal police department said, the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
The police statement added that eight people who had engaged in “illegal activities” had been summoned and questioned by police, and their cases were being handled in accordance with the law.
The police statement said that people commenting online should adhere to Chinese law, adding that those “spreading rumors or disrupting social order” would be investigated and punished.
So far, nine people, all of them in Wuhan, have now died from the virus, Li Bin, vice director of the National Health Commission, told reporters on Jan. 22, the Washington Post reported.
On Jan. 22, BBC reported that 440 people had been infected worldwide, with the bulk of cases arising in China.
The virus originated in a meat and seafood market in Wuhan.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, symptoms include runny nose, headache, a cough, sore throat, fever, and a general feeling of well-being.
Amid efforts to impose a limited-quarantine in Wuhan, critics have accused Chinese authorities of failing to react to the growing epidemic.
“They’re haven’t learned anything from SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) back then, and they are continuing to cover things up,” Human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi told RFA.
“Under this autocratic regime, officials at any level of government are never held accountable to the people, only to their superiors,” Xie said.
“All they have to do is to sit on information and cover up the truth, because their future is determined by their bosses.”
The outbreak has come at a time when hundreds of millions are planning to travel domestically and internationally for the Chinese New Year on Jan. 25, prompting fears the virus could spread further.