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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 30)

All News 07:46 January 30, 2020

Caution against fake news
: Anti-China sentiment won't help contain virus

People at home and across the globe are increasingly becoming afraid of the rapid spread of a new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. It is natural for them to have anxiety about the epidemic. However, it is regrettable to see fake news and disinformation about the virus circulating through the internet and social media. It is wrong to stoke anti-China sentiment just because the country is the source of the virus outbreak.

A majority of South Koreans have so far shown a measured reaction to the highly contagious virus. Such a reaction certainly reflects the World Health Organization's evaluation that the outbreak is not yet a global emergency, although it is an emergency for China. We don't have to be gripped by panic. South Korea still reported a relatively low number of confirmed cases ― only four. Yet the country should take proactive and pre-emptive measures to prevent the further spread of the pneumonia-like illness.

Nevertheless, there are growing signs of phobia not only about the pandemic, but also about China and its people. A case in point is a civil petition on the website of the presidential office which calls for a ban on the entry of all Chinese travelers into Korea. More than 577,000 people have signed the petition over the past seven days. Their worries about the virus are understandable. But they seem to have gone too far in making such a demand.

In theory the country can close its border to block the influx of Chinese people as a pre-emptive step. But in reality it is difficult to impose such a measure at this point, considering international relations and global human rights norms which respect the flow of human and material exchanges between countries. Of course, it could be possible to enforce a partial entry ban on residents of a specific city, i.e. Wuhan, as part of the fight against spreading the illness. But even in that case, there should be sufficient reasons and careful reviews to avoid any unnecessary controversy.

That is why Rep. Lee In-young, the floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), has urged the people to refrain from inflaming hatred about Chinese. He said, "A friend in need is a friend in deed." His saying was seen as stressing the importance of bilateral cooperation between the two countries in bringing the outbreak under control.

In this regard, we have to caution against anti-China sentiment that might arise among South Koreans here. Aversion to Chinese people and their exclusion could make matters worse. Such negative feelings are feared to make Chinese residents or travelers hesitate to report possible symptoms of the virus to the health authorities.

Some internet users were found to have circulated unfounded stories or urban myths about the Wuhan coronavirus. Others have reportedly spread video footage that contained bad information or disinformation. Fake news about the epidemic will not help the country and its people win the battle against the virus. It will only help the illness make its way into our lives as fast as it can. To root out fake news and disinformation, the authorities should provide correct information about the disease timely and transparently.

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