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Parow man appears in court for posting fake COVID-19 news

Stephen Birch was released on a warning and is expected to return to court on 14 July.

A screengrab of Stephen Birch, the man who was arrested and charged under the Distaster Managment Act for spreading fake news about COVID-19 testing.

CAPE TOWN - A man charged with spreading fake news about coronavirus (COVID-19) testing appeared in court on Tuesday.

In a video widely circulated on social media over the weekend, Stephen Birch (55) claimed the medical swabs to be used by health workers during community screenings were contaminated with the virus.

Birch was arrested in Parow on Monday. The National Prosecuting Authority said he was charged with breaching the National Disaster Act and defying lockdown regulations.

Birch was released on a warning and is expected to return to court on 14 July.

In the almost three-minute-long video, Birch is seen holding an earbud and saying the government would send thousands of health care workers and soldiers door to door to test people.

He explained how a cotton earbud would be inserted in people’s nose and mouth to collect DNA.

However, Birch then called on people to refuse the tests and claimed the medical swabs being used by fieldworkers were already contaminated with COVID-19.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde feared fake reports about coronavirus testing could unnecessarily scare people and put them off from being screened and tested.

He said the false messages were dangerous because people’s lives could be at risk when they refused to get tested out of fear.

OFFICER SUSPENDED FOR FAKE NEWS

At the same time, a Cape Town law enforcement officer was suspended for spreading fake news.

A Plumstead councillor apparently posted a voice note on a WhatsApp group of the official making false claims about what the City of Cape Town intended to do with homeless people during the lockdown.

He apparently falsely claimed homeless people would be forcibly removed from the city's streets and taken to Pollsmoor Prison where they would be quarantined for a year.

Meanwhile, Police Minister Bheki Cele said about eight people were arrested for disseminating false information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.

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