Two ambulance drivers were detained for spreading rumours about a coronavirus infection in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country that borders China, Kazakh police said Thursday.
The two men were detained on suspicion of “spreading false information about an illness from the coronavirus,” said Sergei Neznayev, a spokesman for police in the region surrounding Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty.
“They heard something somewhere and began to spread the information” via the WhatsApp messenger services, Neznayev told AFP.
Neznayev said the rumours had been “checked and disproven” during the course of the investigation.
Spreading false information is punishable by up to a year in jail under Kazakhstan’s criminal code.
The former Soviet republic is one of a number of nations that have clamped down on Chinese visitors as the new coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, continues to spread across Asia.
Authorities on Wednesday announced that visas to Chinese citizens were no longer being issued and pledged to suspend key transport links over the coming days.
Kazakhstan has not announced any cases of coronavirus infection.
Rumours about infections have become rife in the Central Asian countries that border China and look to Beijing for investment and loans, however.
In Tajikistan, which also borders China, major carrier Somon Air denied a rumour that a passenger on one of its flights died aboard the plane after becoming infected by the virus.
The outbreak has killed 170 people in China and infected over 7,000 worldwide.