A passenger has his temperature checked during the return of train services in the region, following the lifting of travel restrictions to halt the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Tanyong Mat railway station in the southern Thai province of Narathiwat on June 11, 2020. (AFP / Madaree Tohlala)

Hoax circulates online that Thailand raised its coronavirus alert to the 'highest level'

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A video has been viewed thousands of times on Facebook and YouTube alongside a claim that Thailand’s Ministry of Health has raised the country’s alert on the novel coronavirus to the “highest level”. The claim is false; a spokesman for Thailand’s Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) says the country has not declared its highest level of alert; the Ministry of Public Health refuted the claim, calling it “fake news”.

The video was published here on Facebook on February 26, 2020. It has since been viewed more than 4,100 times.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, taken on September 14

Translated to English, the Thai-language caption partly reads: “URGENT! The announcement by the Ministry of Health, please listen carefully. Thailand is entering stage 3, keeping an eye on thousands of patients. Do not go to crowded places please, wear a mask to protect yourself.”

The three-minute, 30-second video shows part of the Ministry of Health’s daily press briefing. At the video's one-minute, forty-seconds mark, Dr. Narong Apikulwanich, the chief information officer of the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Medicine, says: “I must tell you that the next step from now on, is that the social interaction is the factor that defines the next step of the pandemic, which is called Stage 3. We have already informed this to all parts of the organisation.”

The Thai government has three alert levels for the coronavirus pandemic, with Stage 3 being the highest. The Ministry of Public Health published an infographic on the three stages on its website here.

The video has been viewed more than 6,000 times after it was posted here and here on Facebook, and here on YouTube in late February 2020.

The claim circulated again in early September 2020 here and here, minus the video.

However, the claim is false.

The video in the misleading post corresponds with this live-stream video of a Covid-19 press briefing, posted on the Facebook page of the Department of Disease Control on February 24, 2020.

The beginning of the video in the misleading post matches the ten-minute, 27-second mark of the live-streamed video. 

In the press briefing, Narong explained preparations and procedures to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing measures to avoid Stage 3 of the pandemic.

Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for Thailand’s Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), told AFP during a phone conversation on September 11, 2020: “From February to now, Thailand has never announced Stage 3 of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“We have [since] dropped the usage of stages 1-3 to reflect the pandemic situation in Thailand, as it was being used to compare [with other countries],” he added. 

The Ministry of Health also addressed the claim in this announcement on its official Facebook page on September 6, 2020. 

The post features an image with the words seen in the misleading posts crossed out in red, with a Thai-language caption that says: “This is fake news, do not believe it.”