Alan Winde, the Western Cape Premier in South Africa, has laid criminal charge against Stephen Donald Birch for spreading fake news about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test kits in South Africa. Birch has been distributing a video on social media in which he claims the test kits that the South African Department of Health is about to use for its mass COVID-19 testing exercise are contaminated.

Winde laid the criminal against Birch on the morning of Monday,  6 April 2020.

Birch also attracted criticism from the Eastern Cape Department of Health in South Africa which condemned the video he distributed on social media. The spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Health, Sizwe Kupelo, is reported to have said that the department condemns the video for spreading fake news and ordering people to refuse to be tested for COVID-19.

Screenshot of the video in which Birch claims to show how the COID-19 tests in South Africa are contaminated. Source: Twitter

COVID-19 fake news in South Africa

Since South Africa reported its first positive case of COVID-19 earlier in March 2020, many stories of misinformation have been making the rounds. Ranging from herbal remedies that claim to cure COVID-19, how 5G is causing the spread of COVID-19, and other similar fake news.

However, since the country's government effected a State of Disaster which came into effect on midnight of 26 March 2020, the spread of fake news about COVID-19 is considered a criminal offence punishable by a fine or jail time.

A section of the amended Disaster Management Act in South Africa which explains what will constitute fake news and the associated punishments.

History of controversy

Birch published his video following South Africa's government announcing that it will be deploying 10,000 people across the country to perform a mass COVID-19 screening and testing programme across the country. As such, he possibly contravened a section of the Disaster Management Act which talks about publishing information "with the intention to deceive any other person about any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19."

It is also worth noting that Birch is no stranger to controversy.

During 2012 Birch, a real estate developer, claimed that he had found the remains and grave of Madeleine McCann, a young child who had been missing for 5 years at the time. His claims would later be proved to be fake.

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