Moroccan police arrested a woman on Monday for spreading rumours online about the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.
The woman shared a video on Facebook last week claiming that the authorities had detected a case of the new strain of the virus, 2019-nCOV in the city of Fez at a Chinese restaurant called "the Great Wall". Filming outside the restaurant, the woman said: "Everyone is covering their noses to avoid infection."
"They found a coronavirus case here. Chinese people who entered the country brought the disease. A man fainted inside the restaurant," the woman said to a passer-by.
However, after the video went viral Morocco World News reported that a member of staff from the restaurant had dismissed the allegations as lies, explaining that the restaurant's manager had a fever and called an ambulance. According to a doctor the man is only suffering from a cold.
Moroccan authorities have already condemned the rumours of the virus outbreak and the manager reportedly is seeking to file a lawsuit against the woman for spreading false rumours. Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani reassured citizens last week that no cases of coronavirus have been detected and that strict measures are in place at ports of entry, in particular incoming flights from Beijing. Earlier in the week it was reported that a group of 167 Moroccans were repatriated from Wuhan, where the outbreak emerged in December 2019, all are described as being "in very good condition".
Othmani also warned that those publishing rumours about the outbreak "bear great responsibility" for causing terror and panic among members of the public.
The coronavirus is a potentially fatal and highly contagious disease that causes severe acute respiratory infection. The WHO has declared a global health emergency over the outbreak, but has not yet classified it as a "pandemic". Most infected people are likely to recover as they would from a flu. The disease has killed at least 490 people since its outbreak with more than 24,300 cases in China alone.
According to Freedom House, Morocco's strict laws mean internet users may be punished for their online activities under the penal code, the antiterrorism law and the press code. Journalists can also be jailed for speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam and the issue of Western Sahara and threats to national security. Defamation is also regarded as a criminal offense. Classified as "partly free" Morocco ranks at 45/100 on the organisation's Internet Freedom Score.