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Infectious Diseases

Updated 24 April 2020

'I am not the author' - top doc denies he wrote viral WhatsApp message being attributed to him

A top Cape Town doctor has denied he authored a viral WhatsApp message about the coronavirus crisis in South Africa, which had been attributed to him – the second such incident involving a top medical expert in less than a month.

Another viral WhatsApp message is doing the rounds making claims about the coronavirus crisis in South Africa, supposedly authored by a top Cape Town doctor.

Health24 can confirm, however, that the message was not authored by him.

The message claims to be the 13-point "outcomes" of a discussion on the pandemic, with "some doc friends of mine in the school group", and claims to be "written by The Head of Trauma at Groote Schuur Hospital, Prof Andrew Nicol".

In an e-mail, Professor Nicol – the Director of the Groote Schuur Hospital Trauma Centre and a professor of surgery at the University of Cape Town – denied that he was involved.

"Fake news. I am not the author," Prof Nicol said, and added that his expertise was trauma, not Covid-19.

The Western Cape health department also released a statement saying, "A supposed message by the Head of Trauma at Groot Schuur hospital is doing the rounds on WhatsApp that the government will not be able to contain and manage the coronavirus. This is FAKE."

This is yet another message attributed to a top expert, apparently in order to give it credibility.

'Verify the information'

Late in March, Health24 reported on a voicenote which had spread, in which the person speaking had made some outrageous claims about the coronavirus crisis.

This voicenote was being shared along with a message claiming that the voice was that of Professor Diana Hardie, head of the diagnostic virology laboratory at Groote Schuur Hospital.

But Professor Hardie at the time told Health24, that, "I would like to put on record that this voicenote was not from me or any other virologist at Groote Schuur Hospital."

Soon after, it was established that the voicenote originated from a young doctor, and meant for her mother, as a message of caution from a worried daughter.

On the voicenote, the person speaking had often referred to to Professor Zilla, which Health24 further established was Professor Peter Zilla, head of the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Chris Barnard Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

After reaching out to Professor Zilla, he confirmed that the voicenote was not intended to be shared.

"This was a private message of a young doctor to her mother to scare her into staying home, as she falls into a high-risk group," Professor Zilla told Health24.

It was never meant to end up as an objective truth on social media, he told Health24 at the time.

The government has warned of repercussions for people who create and spread fake news.

On the government's website, it clearly says: "Anyone that creates or spreads fake news about the coronavirus Covid-19 is liable for prosecution.

"Verify the information before you share information."

READ | FAKE NEW ALERT | WhatsApp voicenote 'was not from me' - Groote Schuur virologist

READ | FAKE NEWS on WhatsApp: Coronavirus, doctors from Vienna and 'killer' ibuprofen

READ | THAT WhatsApp voicenote wasn't meant to be shared - it was from a worried daughter to her mother 

Image credit: Duncan Alfreds, News24