The COVID-19 lockdown globally has manifested in various forms from country to country based on each nation’s regime and level of contamination. Sri Lanka’s lockdown for instance has manifested in the form of a curfew which has disabled incomes of several citizens such as daily wage earners. Access to food and other essential items to households especially in the Western province has been limited to delivery services.
In many cases, the lack of income and depleting financial resources in many households has created a difficult living situation with added issues like high delivery costs and several vendors increasing the prices of essential goods in this time of national crisis. A number of posts have been circulating specifying details of delivery services and vendors who deliver essential items.
In this backdrop a Facebook post went viral within few hours of posting along with it requesting public not to fall for opportunistic sellers as shown below.
The post in Sinhala says “ඔන්න හෙට ඉඳලම කතාකරන්න. ලුනු 150, සැමන් 100, පරිප්පු 65, වැඩිපුර සතයක් ගෙවන්න එපා අවස්තවාදීන්ට” translated to English as “From tomorrow onwards you can get Onions at Rs. 150, Salmon tins at Rs. 100 and Dahl at Rs. 65. Do not spend any additional money on opportunists” and contact details were also provided as “24 hour hotline 0114354550, 0114354655 or direct line 0112354354”
Due to its content, the post went viral with nearly 10,000 shares being noted. Considering the present situation in the country, when there is a dire need of procuring essential items for sustenance, posts as such getting viral is understandable.
We noticed several other text posts also with the same narrative had been circulated from last week of March as shown below.
Since these posts do not accompany any official logo nor mention any state or private organization, we did an investigation to ascertain the authenticity.
We began our verification process, by running a simple search on telephone numbers provided in order to ascertain identity only to discover that they were associated with the Presidential Secretariat as shown below.
On noticing the phone number association, we checked the official President Media Website and social media channels and did not notice any message relating to the above message.
We contacted the President’s team who informed us that this information is false and misleading the public and that 2 of the numbers (0114354550 & 0114354655) were in fact internal office lines that were converted as 24-hour hotline for the public to contact Presidents office, if the directives given by the government were not being implemented in a proper manner or to report any unwarranted activity causing inconvenience during COVID19 outbreak.
This information was published in the PMD News Twitter handle as seen below.
President Media unit also mentioned that as a result of this viral social media post, these numbers have been inundated with calls throughout the day, disabling essential work and legitimate phone calls from reaching the secretariat.
Further, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Twitter feed includes a post from 27th March 2020 with the very same numbers, requiring them to be used for the purpose of public complaints around those violating government orders or inconveniencing the public during the Coronavirus lockdown. The post is presented below:
We wonder if this message was in fact a public prank to tax the already overtaxed national resources during the COVID19 crisis and urge the public to assist the plans set forth by the government and health officials instead of crippling a system designed to help them in times of need like the present pandemic.
The duplicitous nature of the viral message and the verified facts surrounding the same phone numbers lead us to the conclusion that the viral message is false. We continue to urge the public to be vigilant about unverified information and refrain from sharing such sarcastic posts in a national crisis.
Title:Misleading message on essential food items goes viral!Fact Check By: Sathyajith Subasinghe