Cambodian leader blasts online misinformation about virus

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s leader urged citizens on Thursday to remain calm about the new virus from China, which has been confirmed in a single case of a visitor from Wuhan, while threatening to kick out reporters or officials seen wearing a face mask.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a live televised address that people should not be scared because the real illness they faced was fear, based on inaccurate information on social media.

“The prime minister does not wear a mask, so why should you be wearing a mask here,” he said.

Hun Sen, who very actively posts on his own Facebook account, was critical about misinformation about the virus that had spread on that platform in Cambodia.

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He said the real illness that had emerged recently and was much more scary was the irresponsible sharing of stories online that caused people without understanding of the virus to panic.

Hun Sen appeared to be referring to many unverified reports on social media claiming that many people in different provinces were sick or dead from the virus.

Hun Sen also announced he would not ban direct flights between Cambodia and China, saying that would disturb relations between the two countries and hurt the economy of the country, which hosts many Chinese investors and tourists. People should not discriminate against the Chinese, he said.

China’s own efforts to curb travel were an effective measure against the disease, Hun Sen said. Several foreign airlines have cut or stopped flights to China on their own initiative.

Beijing is the main foreign supporter of Hun Sen’s authoritarian government, supplying major amounts of aid and investment. Cambodia in turn supports China’s position on issues such as the South China Sea, where Beijing’s territorial claims are challenged by other Southeast Asian nations.

Hun Sen also said there are no plans to bring Cambodian students and diplomatic representatives back from China. Several countries have arranged evacuation of their nationals from the Wuhan area.

He urged people to take health precautions, but also to go about their normal work, appealing to students to attend classes.

Hun Sen turned to a traditional saying to make the point that none of his countrymen have been reported to have caught the illness.

“Why would we need to be afraid of tiger’s dung since we are not scared of the tiger?” he said. “There is not a single Cambodian contracting the virus, it happened only to a Chinese man.”

The man, who had traveled to Cambodia from Wuhan, was now almost recovered, Hun Sen said.

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