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Egypt designates numbers on WhatsApp for reporting coronavirus ‘rumors’

Egypt’s cabinet media center said on Wednesday that it has designated two numbers on the mobile call and messaging application WhatsApp for citizens to report “rumors” about the novel coronavirus, warning that those who spread false information about COVID-19 online could face legal measures under the penal code and cybercrime law.

Citizens can call the number 01155508688 or 01155508851 to report rumors or “false news” about the virus 24 hours a day, a statement from the cabinet media center said, adding that all legal measures will be taken, in coordination with concerned authorities, against any individual spreading rumors and/or publishing “false news” and statements on the virus with the aim of undermining public security or harming the public interest.

The statement warned citizens to exercise caution when it comes to the information they share online to avoid being subjected to legal measures.

There will be “no tolerance” in taking the necessary legal measures in this regard, the statement read.

There have been over 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Middle East and upwards of 300 deaths, the vast majority of which have been reported in Iran. Egypt previously confirmed 59 cases and one death — a 60-year-old German tourist.

The statement said that this latest step is part of government efforts to confront the virus, noting that recently harmful rumors and false information about the virus went viral on social media.

Egypt’s cabinet media center called on citizens to avoid sharing any information on the virus that does not come from government officials or concerned authorities.

The spokesperson for the Egyptian Cabinet Nader Saad said on Tuesday that certain elements online have promoted rumors on social media about the coronavirus, with the aim of spreading confusion and fear among the public.

During a phone-in with the privately-owned satellite channel Sada al-Balad, Saad said that article 188 of the Penal Code stipulates clear penalties of up to one-year imprisonment and a fine to those convicted of spreading rumors or false news.

He added that the cybercrime law increases the penalties for spreading rumors to up to five years in prison and a fine of LE 500,000.

Saad then said that school closures on Thursday have nothing to do with the novel coronavirus, but rather is in response to the Egyptian Meteorological Authority’s warning of heavy rain and strong winds this weekend.

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