Social media playing key awareness role in outbreak this time around
Unlike during the Sars epidemic in 2003, there is more transparency and awareness now
When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) broke out in 2003, there was no social media to spread the news or words of caution.
The earliest case of Sars was thought to have occurred in November 2002 in Foshan, in China's Guangdong province.
It was only three months later, on Feb 10, 2003, that the then unknown disease was mentioned in a circular in the local media.
Seventeen years on, the media landscape has changed drastically.
Social media has played a crucial part in raising awareness of the Wuhan virus which was first reported in December last year. It has so far killed 170 people and infected more than 7,700 in China.
Netizens have been actively sharing pictures, videos and posts about the Wuhan virus situation on Facebook and Instagram. And hashtags such as #coronavirus and #2019-nCoV have been trending on Twitter for days.
Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at the Singapore Institute of Management Global Education, said with social media, it has become difficult for governments to cover up scandals or crises.
He said people, especially the youth, have become more vocal, thus allowing for greater transparency.
He said: "The Wuhan virus crisis has taken on a whole new level. There is no point in China hiding or covering the seriousness of the situation when it has become global.
"So in a way, social media has allowed for that transparency."
Chinese netizens have also gone on messaging app WeChat and microblogging website Weibo, to share official updates on the crisis.
Dr Tony See, a political science associate lecturer in one of the universities here, said social media has a part to play in China, and that it is now more proactive in disseminating information.
He said: "China has learnt its lessons from the Sars crisis and is now more transparent in sharing information... more still needs to be done."
But Dr Tan said social media is a double-edged sword that has been used to spread fake news and try and cause panic.
He said: "Social media can also create rumours and misinform users. Fake news is a worrying trend that creates unnecessary fear and that is a big problem."
For example, several Facebook posts claimed this past week that the Woodlands MRT station was closed because of a suspected virus case.
The posts, put up by different accounts, also falsely claimed the station was closed for disinfection.
Debunking the fake news, the Ministry of Transport said in a Facebook post: "We would like to clarify that this is not true. Woodlands MRT was not closed on 28 Jan, 2020; it was fully operational."
On Sunday, SPH Magazines was asked to correct an online post in its HardwareZone forum that falsely claimed a man in Singapore died of the Wuhan virus infection.
The company complied with the order.
A Facebook video of a Wuhan woman in a medic's uniform saying the virus has infected over 90,000 had over two million views.
The video turned out to be fake.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on Facebook about the importance of sharing news responsibly.
He said: "Please do not listen to or spread rumours and untrue reports - alas there is a lot of that circulating around, on WhatsApp and social media."