January 29, 2020 / 10:06 AM / 18 days ago

China police drop case of SARS 'rumour-mongering' at start of new crisis

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese police at the center of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 132 people have dropped a case against eight people accused of spreading rumors about deadly SARS, they said on Wednesday, as anger grows about the handling of the new crisis.

The bureau in Wuhan said the “rumor-mongering” at the beginning of the month, when a new virus had not been detected, `was not especially serious and the accused should be subject to “education” and “criticism” rather than fines or detention.

In a comment posted below the online police notice, one person said the “eight warriors” should be rewarded, not punished. Another said he or she would report the Wuhan police to China’s cabinet for dereliction of duty.

If the new virus had been treated as seriously as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the first place, it wouldn’t have turned into the “national disaster” it has now become, said someone with the username “Niu Erqian”.

China traditionally cracks down hard on rumour-mongering, saying that false information damages public order.

China was widely accused of covering up the SARS crisis in 2002-2003, when hundreds died. The Wuhan government has been accused by many online of covering up the new virus, but Beijing has insisted on full disclosure and transparency.

“The whole country thinks you shouldn’t have arrested them,” said another commentator with the username “Melody consumes less paper”.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Nick Macfie

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