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Western Japan officials dismiss rumor of escaped patient with virus, call for calm

Passengers from China are seen wearing masks at Kansai International Airport on the morning of Jan. 24, 2020. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

Kansai Airport Quarantine Station in western Japan has warned people not to be misled by a false claim circulating on Twitter and other social media that a Chinese tourist suspected of being infected with a new coronavirus had escaped from a hospital.

"No such thing has happened. We ask people not to be misled by mistaken information, but to respond calmly," a quarantine station representative said.

The false rumor was that a tourist from the Chinese city of Wuhan suspected of having the virus and who had entered Japan through Kansai International Airport had run away from a hospital. It came as the virus continues to infect people mainly in China, where it is reported to have killed over 40 people. Two cases have been reported in Japan.

The source of the false information is believed to be an image said to have been taken from a post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service in China. The username and other information were pixelated. The fake post stated that the Chinese tourist was found with a fever plus a cough and was taken to a hospital, but escaped. It also said the fictional patient apparently "had to go to" Kyoto and Universal Studios Japan, while suggesting that many people could be infected and calling for people in Osaka to watch out. The message was translated into Japanese and started spreading from the evening of Jan. 23.

A representative of the Osaka Prefectural Government's medical services division commented, "We've received inquiries from residents, but as of now, no such thing has happened." Meanwhile, the Kansai airport quarantine station representative stated, "If we find any suspected infections, we will immediately contact the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and the ministry will announce them. We ask people to respond reasonably."

(Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Izumisano Resident Bureau, and Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department)

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