Club members queue outside a gym after it reopened, as staff assist them with temperature checks as part of their measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Hong Kong on May 8, 2020. (AFP / Anthony Wallace)

Pre-pandemic photo recirculates in false posts about Covid-19 outbreak linked to Hong Kong gym

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Following the detection of a Covid-19 infection cluster in Hong Kong linked to a gym, multiple Facebook and online forum posts have shared a photo that they claim shows an employee at the gym and a club member engaging in indelicate behaviour. The claim is false: the photo has circulated online since 2016 in posts about a fitness instructor and his wife in Thailand.

The photo forms part of a collage posted on Facebook on March 12, 2021.

It shows a shirtless man and a woman photographed in an adult pose. “The whole thing has become reasonable,” the photo’s Chinese-language text overlay translates to English.

The photo was shared alongside a screenshot of a Sing Tao Daily news report on March 10, 2021, that reports on a cluster of Covid-19 infections linked to a gym in Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun district.

More than a hundred Covid-19 cases had been linked to the gym as of March 17, 2021.

Screenshot taken on March 16, 2021 of the misleading Facebook post

The photo collage was also shared alongside a similar claim here, here, here and here on Facebook; and here in a Hong Kong forum post.

However, the claim is false; the photo is unrelated to the Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong.

Keyword searches on Facebook found the photo was in fact posted by a user called Sirichai Daothaisong on March 11, 2016, four years before Hong Kong detected its first Covid-19 case.

While the 2016 Facebook photo is not captioned, Sirichai Daothaisong’s profile indicates he is a fitness trainer living in Bangkok, Thailand.

He denied the photo was taken in Hong Kong during the Covid-19 pandemic as the misleading posts allege.

“It was taken a while back with my wife at the gym near my neighbourhood (in Thailand),” he told AFP in a phone interview on March 16, 2021.

His sister, Kanlayakorn Daotaisong, also denied the claim, posting a clarification on Facebook on March 11, 2021.

“The photo is my brother and his wife,” she said. “We’re Thai and we've never been Hongkong before.”

The misleading claim was also debunked by Hong Kong fact-checking organization Kauyim Media.