Posts mislead on 'new penalties' for 'unvaccinated Australians' who sneeze or cough in public

·3 min read

A video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in social media posts that claim "unvaccinated" people in Australia faced hefty fines and jail time for "sneezing or coughing in public" under new coronavirus measures introduced on December 17, 2021. But the posts are misleading; the video was taken from a longer news report about pandemic measures brought in to protect frontline workers in Australia's Queensland state. The Queensland government's Department of Health clarified to AFP that the measures -- introduced in May 2020 -- apply to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status.

The video was shared on Twitter on December 13, 2021.

It has been viewed more than 2,500 times.

A screenshot, taken on December 14, 2021, of the misleading post.

Written in both Chinese and English, the video's caption reads: "AUSTRALIA from the 17th of December, The Unvaccinated will be fined up to $13,000 or 6 months in prison, for offences such as sneezing or coughing in public".

It shows a police officer saying: "Anyone that is spitting, coughing or sneezing or threatens to do so, they can be issued with an infringement notice."

The same video has been viewed more than 260,000 times on Twitter and Gettr alongside a similar claim.

Responding to the posts, some social media users commented that Australia is "crazy" and the measure is "absolute insanity".

But these posts are misleading: they misrepresent pandemic measures introduced in the state of Queensland.

State rules

In May 2020, the Queensland government introduced new rules penalising anyone who deliberately spits at, coughs, or sneezes on frontline workers.

"There are increasing reports of people intentionally spitting at or coughing or sneezing on public officials and workers during the Covid-19 public health emergency," the directive from Queensland's health ministry reads.

"Intentionally spitting, coughing or sneezing at public officials and other workers increases the risk that they will be exposed to Covid-19 and, in turn, that they may spread the virus to other members of the community," the ministry added.

Queensland's Department of Health told AFP on December 16, 2021 that "this applies to any persons, regardless of vaccination status".

The states of New South Wales and Western Australia have implemented similar measures.

News report

A keyword search on Google found the video in the misleading posts was taken out of context.

It was extracted from a longer news report published here on YouTube by broadcaster 7NEWS Australia on December 7, 2021.

The report is about the easing of pandemic restrictions in the state of Queensland.

It features a section on new measures being implemented to protect hospitality workers.

The report states: "Thousands of interstate travelers are expected to cross the border from next Monday. Businesses are looking forward to bigger crowds. And welcoming tougher penalties for unvaccinated customers who target hospitality staff."

It then goes on to include the comment from Queensland's police commissioner Katarina Carroll about infringement notices for people coughing, sneezing, or spitting.

Penalties can range from maximum fines of AUD$13,000 to six months in prison, the full version of the report says.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (L) and the original 7News Australia report (R):

A screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (L) and the original news report (R).

Australian television channel Sky News also reported on the measures here.

Australian officials said they are pushing ahead with plans to ease Covid restrictions before Christmas even as new coronavirus cases jumped, AFP reported.

Authorities said the new cases would not deter them from dropping most public mask-wearing requirements from Wednesday or lifting a ban on unvaccinated citizens entering restaurants, bars, and major events.

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