A sign directing visitors to the Fever Clinic is pictured at the entrance to the Gold Coast University Hospital where the US actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were admitted for COVID-19 on March 13, 2020.

Australian health authorities refute hoax about 'free home checks' for suspected COVID-19 cases

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A purported emergency notice from Australian authorities has been shared hundreds of times in multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter. It states people can receive free home visits from doctors during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The claim is false; Australian health authorities denied issuing the notice, adding the hoax had prompted “unnecessary phone calls” that had overwhelmed public health units.

This Facebook post with the purported notice was published on March 22, 2020. It has been shared more than 360 times.

The text in the image states: “Australian EMERGENCY Notice; If you feel unwell, have a fever or sore throat. PLEASE do not go to the medical centre/family clinic or the hospital, please contact the communicable disease control branch directly. There will be a doctor who will visit your place of residence and do a check up on you, it will be free of charge. Do the right thing! #staythefuckathome".

The post then lists the phone numbers for nationwide Communicable Disease Branches, which are units under state health departments tasked with promoting immunisation, surveilling diseases and controlling outbreaks. 

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

The purported notice circulated online as nations worldwide took unprecedented steps aimed at curbing the novel coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 14,000 people and infected over 330,000 globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Australia, which has 1,823 confirmed cases as of March 24, 2020, announced a nationwide lockdown to mitigate transmissions. 

The purported notice was also shared on Facebook here, here, here and here; as well as on Twitter here, here, here and here with a similar claim.

The claim is false.

The Ministry of Health in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, wrote on Twitter on March 17, 2020 that it did not issue the notice.

“@NSWHealth is aware of a text message advising people to contact their local communicable disease control branch directly for a ‘free doctor visit’. This text message did not originate from NSW Health,” the agency wrote in a Twitter thread. “Our Public Health Units are now being inundated with unnecessary phone calls by concerned people who have received this text message.” 

Healthdirect Australia, a government-run health services organisation, did recommend that patients seeking medical assistance after suffering coronavirus symptoms should call a clinic or hospital before visiting one. Nowhere, however, does the organisation say the government will provide free home visits. 

A keyword search of the Department of Health main website also resulted in no mentions of free doctor visits.