This video has circulated in media reports about a man on a subway train in Brussels

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

A video has been viewed thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube alongside a claim it shows a US soldier spreading the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, by wiping his saliva on a subway train handrail in the Chinese city of Wuhan in October 2019. The claim is false; the video circulated in reports in March 2020 about an incident on a subway in Belgium; the Belgian transport body said the man in the video had been arrested over the incident.

The video was published here on Facebook on March 17, 2020. It has since been viewed more than 8,300 times.

The 27-second video shows a man on a subway train lowering his facemask before licking his fingers and rubbing them on a handrail.

The simplified Chinese text superimposed on the clip translates to English as: “During Military World Games/American person spread virus/Pay attention to this/The United States is evil”.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading Facebook post:

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post

The post’s caption, written in a mix of English and simplified Chinese characters, reads: “Just to share this clip and its comments from China: Wuhan's security cameras all recorded American soldiers' itinerary route at that time. This American soldier, as the Military World Games was going on, had already worn a mask. Started to spread the epidemic virus by taking subway. Let’s take a detailed look at his hand movement, from the mouth to the handrail, from which we will know the evil and vicious heart of Americans. Poor Wuhan citizens, they were then infected by the merciless epidemic virus.”

COVID-19 was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 and has since spread worldwide. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic has killed more than 14,510 people and infected some 332,930 others globally.

The Military World Games is an quadrennial international event for military sportsmen. Wuhan hosted the 7th Military World Games from October 18 to 27 in 2019, as reported by Chinese state media Xinhua here.

The video was also shared here, here and here on Facebook, here, here and here on Twitter, and here on YouTube, alongside a similar claim.

The claim is false.

A combined keyword and reverse image search using keyframes extracted from the video found this March 11, 2020 article by UK-based newspaper The Independent, headlined: “Coronavirus: Man arrested after licking his fingers and wiping them on pole in train”.

The report reads, in part: “A train passenger has been arrested after he was filmed licking his fingers and wiping them on a vertical handrail in Belgium.

“Belgium’s transport authority, the Societe des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB-MBIV), replied to a social media user who posted the video that the man was drunk and arrested by police.”

A screenshot of the footage is included in the article, credited to Twitter user SoulOff, alongside a caption that reads: “A man who was filmed licking his fingers and wiping them on a handrail on public transport was arrested by Belgian authorities”. 

Below is a screenshot of The Independent article:

Screenshot of The Independent article

The incident was also reported by other local and international media, including the Begian news website Brussels Times here, Australia’s News.com here and Thai newspaper Bangkok Post here.

Belgium’s STIB-MBIV addressed the video in this tweet dated March 10, 2020, stating the man had been arrested. 

“The man (intoxicated) was arrested by the police and our security service. The subway train was withdrawn from service to be disinfected. Thank you for your message. Our metros are cleaned every day.”