MEP flags up concerns over Coronavirus fake news

Hungarian Renew Europe deputy Katalin Cseh was speaking in a debate on the deadly outbreak in Parliament in Strasbourg.
credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Feb 2020

The debate was told that so far there had been 1,200 deaths from the virus which originated in China. Some 40,000 people across the world had also been infected.

But Cseh highlighted a disturbing new twist, saying that two people had recently been detained in Hungary for posting messages that hundreds of thousands of people had been infected with the virus.

She said, “There is a global crisis but Europe must remain calm and composed. The rising misinformation campaigns should be tackled and credible information must be provided to citizens. Misinformation can be more contagious than the virus.”


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Taking part in the same parliamentary debate, Spanish GUE deputy Miguel Urbán Crespo warned that “xenophobia” was also being witnessed as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Universal healthcare is a fundamental right and austerity measures have harmed the level of public health services in the EU, he said, calling for “zero tolerance” when it comes to racist attacks on people of Asian origin. 

The plenary debate was the second on the virus in Parliament this week.

On Monday, members of the environment and public health committee also discussed the outbreak with Andrea Ammon, the Executive Director of the EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The ECDC is a non-regulatory EU agency in charge of gathering and spreading information on communicable diseases within the EU or threatening from outside the EU.

“The rising misinformation campaigns should be tackled and credible information must be provided to citizens. Misinformation can be more contagious than the virus” Katalin Cseh MEP

The outbreak of the Coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has led the WHO to declare a public health emergency of international concern.

In Thursday’s plenary debate, Dutch EPP member Esther de Lange commended the Commission for its “coordinated” efforts, such as when it came to the repatriation of EU citizens.

But she also said that “people want to see solutions, such as a capacity check to see if all Member States are ready.”

“A common approach on people entering from the affected region is needed and a clear communication strategy is required,” she added.

Socialist member Jytte Guteland told the meeting that Europe must be adequately prepared as it is still unclear how the virus is passed on. But she too welcomed EU efforts into research of the virus.

“A common approach on people entering from the affected region is needed and a clear communication strategy is required” Esther de Lange MEP

Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality, also took part in the debate and said that the executive had provided €10m towards research into the virus and clinical trials will be launched across 3,000 hospitals and 900 laboratories in 42 countries.

Currently, Member States are implementing a variety of measures at points of entry, however, a common position should be arrived at concerning external borders, she told MEPs.

Also on Thursday, Paolo Gentiloni, EU Commissioner for the Economy, speaking about the possible wider repercussions of the virus, said “It is too soon to evaluate the extent of its negative economic impact.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the Council issued a statement on the virus, welcoming the EU's “effective response to the challenges arising from the outbreak.”

It urged Member States to “take the necessary measures to enhance their cooperation” and called on the Commission to “examine ways of facilitating Member States' access to personal protective equipment and to evaluate the consequences of global health threats for the availability of medicines within the EU.”

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