Health Minister Chris Hipkins urged caution at today's Covid-19 media briefing. Photo/File
Health Minister Chris Hipkins has pleaded for New Zealanders to avoid relying on social media rumours for information on Covid-19 cases and to stick with material from official government sources.
His plea at this afternoon's media briefing alongside Health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield in Wellington came after Hipkins said"utterly wrong" information about a woman in the present cluster caused "extreme distress" for the family at the centre of it.
"Before I start I do want to make a plea to all New Zealanders. Please, please be cautious about the information you are getting on Covid-19 cases," Hipkins said.
"First, please treat the information you are receiving on social media as a rumour that is unverified and therefore something that cannot be relied upon to be true or accurate.
Minister Hipkins said he was especially concerned about wrong information that had caused distress to a whānau.
"It is entirely normal to be inquisitive, to ask questions and to want to know what's going on, but what we've seen over the last 24 hours has taken things to a new and concerning level - it's troubling.
No entry into managed isolation
"One piece of information, in particular, has spread like wildfire and it's created extreme distress for the family that is at the centre of it," he said.
"The claim was that a woman in the present Covid-19 cluster contracted the virus by sneaking into a managed isolation facility and it included a number of vile slurs. Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong.
"I want to say this again, it did not happen. It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false."
The health minister said it was deliberate misinformation and that it is behaviour designed to create fear and panic.
"There have always and always will be rumours but this one smacked of orchestration, of being a deliberate act of misinformation spreading.
"At a time when we are fighting a pandemic and we need all hands on deck to beat it down, this sort of behaviour is deliberately designed to create panic, fear and confusion and it is completely unacceptable.
"So please New Zealanders think twice before sharing unverified information," he said.
Hipkins urged people to take their information from official government sources.
"The second part of my plea is this, please take your information from official sources such as this 1pm briefing," he said.
"Behind the scenes from early on every morning there are dozens of dedicated people tracking down, cross-referencing and checking every bit of information in preparation for these media conferences. That means that the information here is verified.
"The information that we share during these press conferences, on the Covid-19 and Ministry of Health websites and the Covid-19 and Ministry of Health social media pages is information that you can trust."