By: Kerdeu Uong
Rumors and misinformation spread prior to and after the arrival of repatriated residents cause fear and anxiety in the public as well as place unnecessary stress on those in severe isolation.
Prior to the plane leaving Guam, rumors were being circulated that one of the resident under quarantine was tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be taken off the list.
This misinformation was shared widely and had to be discredited at the press briefing prior to the arrival. The day of the arrival, rumors of Koror State rangers setting a blockade and local groups planning some kind of middle of the night protest were rampant causing the government to bring in a large entourage of law enforcement to provide security as well as maintain peace should rumors prove true.
When Koror State government was reached on the afternoon of June 11, they adamantly denied the rumors. Koror State representative who sits on the National Emergency Committee dismissed the rumors saying “No. Koror State is NOT planning any demonstrations or road blocks!”
On 12th of June, rumored post of those in quarantine was circulating all over social media claiming that they have been seen in public or caught escaping their quarantine facilities.
One post said that four quarantined students escaped Sunday night and went driving around.
Jane, not her real name, in quarantine says, “I just wish people could at least have a solid source before they just put unsupported information out there in the media. Nevertheless, my only goal is to get out of the quarantine process and happily go home as soon as possible and as safely as I can, and I wish the same for all the other fellow Palauans going through the same experience as I am. Everyone should put their trust in Palau’s leadership and government for their great efforts for going to extensive lengths just to keep Palau and its people, both present here at home and off-island, safe and covid19-free.”
National Emergency Committee had to issue a public information to again debunk these rumors which were causing people in the community anxiety but were also affecting businesses that the rumors say these people violating quarantine were frequenting.
NEC reminded everyone that the quarantine procedure is being adhered to strictly.
Strict regulations consist of not exiting their rooms including the balcony, strictly no visitors and all must contact family through the phone, all supplies that their family wants to give them must be given to Red Cross to be delivered and all waste in quarantine goes through strict waste control procedures.
All quarantined individuals are not allowed any contact with staff besides personal healthcare workers whom are in protective gear that need to do testing.
Palau Law enforcement is providing security of the facilities to ensure compliance.
A YouTube blog of the one of the quarantined residents explained clearly the restricted routines and procedures that they have to live under while under quarantine.
President Remengesau Jr. during this week’s press conference said that these were “malicious rumors spread to create fear.” He added, “It doesn’t help to have these rumors and falsehoods spread to scare people unnecessarily.”
Palau last week signed on to UN initiative to combat misinformation, “to fight infodemic in times of COVID-19.”
The cross regional statement said “In times of the COVID-19 health crisis, the spread of the infodemic can be as dangerous to human health and the security as the pandemic itself.”
NEC reminds that spreading of rumors can lead to defamation and entitle the offended party to monetary damages under the law.