An Indian artist finished a sand sculpture depicting people wearing protective facemasks in Puri, India on February 16, 2020. (AFP / Str)

Indian health authorities dismiss hoax report of novel coronavirus case in east Indian state

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

A post has been shared multiple times on Facebook that claims a doctor in Purnea, a district in the east Indian state of Bihar, has identified a novel coronavirus patient. This claim is false; the local health authority said that there are no confirmed novel coronavirus patients in the area as of February 14, 2020. The doctor named in the misleading Facebook post also called the claim “baseless and false."

This Facebook post was published on Facebook on February 7, 2020. Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post:

Screenshot of misleading Facebook post

The Hindi-language post translates to English as: "*Breaking News* / Coronavirus has reached Purnea. A coronavirus-positive patient just went to Dr. Vinod Kumar, but he could not get treatment and has been referred to Bhagalpur. I am advising the people of Purnea to avoid meat and fish for three months. / *Note= Always wear a mask as it will protect you from coronavirus*."

Bhagalpur is another district in Bihar.

The post's text was also shared here, here, here, here and here on Facebook and here on Twitter. 

This claim is false.

During a phone conversation with AFP on February 14, 2020, Dr. Ragini Mishra, the State Surveillance Officer at the Bihar Government’s State Health Society, confirmed there had been no novel coronavirus patients in the state.

“We’re taking strict measures as directed by the central government and fortunately have not come across any such cases in the state,” she said.

In separate phone conversations on February 13, 2020, the Chief Medical Officers of Purnea and Bhagalpur, Dr. Madhusudhan Prasad and Dr. R.C. Mandal, also told AFP there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in the districts.

Further keyword searches led to this denial letter by Dr. Vinod Kumar, the doctor named in the misleading Facebook post.

“I, Dr. Vinod Kumar from Purnea district, would like to convey that some anti-social elements are spreading false news in with my name that a coronavirus-infected patient is referred to Bhagalpur by me. This is absolutely baseless and false information. This is aimed at targeting me in some ways. No such patient ever visited my clinic," the Hindi letter, which is dated February 7, 2020, reads in English.

Below is screenshot of his letter: 

Screenshot of denial letter

During a phone conversation with AFP on February 13, 2020, Dr. Kumar confirmed the letter was genuine.