South Africa Health Department Retweets Parody Advice About Coronavirus: 'Do Not Use The Phrase Body-Bag Ready'

The Twitter account for South Africa's health department re-published parody advice about the coronavirus this week—after sharing a warning about fake news.

The verified profile—@HealthZA—spent this morning re-tweeting updates about the global outbreak being posted to the social network by its own National Health Insurance (NHI) account. The updates included an appeal by the health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, that fake news needed "to be dealt with."

But buried under the most recent wave of posts was a curious retweet, indicating the minister's own department could also be blamed for pushing misinformation.

The post in question—from a Twitter account with the handle @godblesstoto—was a joke based on a legitimate update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO tweet, uploaded March 2, shared tips on how people should and shouldn't react to COVID-19, which has infected over 93,000 people globally. The parody advice retweeted by the health department was not as helpful.

The joke post by @godblesstoto, which was still online at the time of writing, read: "DO - Be aware that many differently-sized people will die from #coronavirus. DON'T - Use the phrase 'Are you body-bag ready?' Because this implies certain body shapes are not 'good enough'."

The post containing the parody advice has since attracted hundreds of likes and dozens of comments, with some users left stunned that it had been shared by the agency. The person responsible for the joke later shared a screenshot of the retweet alongside the caption: "wait what."

In response, one Twitter user commented: "Either they know it's a joke and can hack the banter, or don't know it's a joke and it's a sincere endorsement. I'm not sure which is funnier." Another person wrote: "I mean ... that needs framing or something. You've obviously completed Twitter."

Directly under the unfortunate retweet, the SA health department had previously shared a warning from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) about misinformation.

"We caution the public against sharing a fake news voice note that has been circulating on social media, particularly WhatsApp, claiming that the country's first case of coronavirus was detected on Monday," it read. "We confirm that there is no confirmed case... in South Africa."

According to the NHI's own posts, minister Mkhize said today that 120 people in South Africa had been tested for COVID-19 so far, but the procedures returned no positive results.

He said that two South Africans who tested positive for novel coronavirus in Japan are improving and urged officials to "dispel fake news when they come across it on social media."

A disclaimer on the health department's Twitter profile does state that retweets "do not imply endorsement by the department." It has been contacted for comment by Newsweek.

The latest health and safety information about COVID-19 outbreak is available online via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Commuters wearing facemasks
Commuters wearing facemasks amid fears of the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus exit a metro station in Bangkok on March 4, 2020. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty
South Africa Health Department Retweets Parody Advice About Coronavirus: 'Do Not Use The Phrase Body-Bag Ready' | News