[COVIDWatch]: Is this message being sent to close contacts of COVID-19 cases?

By July 22, 2020 COVID-19, Health

We have been alerted to a message being circulated on WhatsApp:

The message contains a screenshot of an article titled ‘DO NOT click the link’; Police warn of scam COVID-19 text messages’.

We see that the article also included a screenshot of what looks to be a text message on an iPhone.

The message informs the recipient that someone they came in contact with has tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-19, and recommends for the recipient to “self-isolate/get tested”. The message ends off with a link.

When we did a check on the link, the page seems to have be removed:

Some clues that indicate it’s not relevant to Singaporeans

While we see the message being forwarded among individuals in Singapore, there are a few clues that it might not be relevant in our context.

First of all, when we did a Google search for the article that was linked in the screenshot, we realise that WJLA is based in Washington DC, US.

The article also shares the context of the message:

🚨🚨SCAM ALERT🚨🚨If you receive a text message like the one pictured below, DO NOT click the link! It is not a message…

Posted by Thomaston Police Department on Wednesday, 15 April 2020

For the unacquainted, Thomaston is a town in Maine, US.

We also see that the post includes the number which the message comes from, and from the country code (+1), we can ascertain that the sender of the message has a US number.

Next, the message alleges that the recipient has been identified to have come in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore has been actively conducting contact tracing, and according to this article on gov.sg, MOH will contact affected individuals (or ‘close contacts’) directly.

An explainer video by The Straits Times on how contact tracing is conducted in Singapore also reveals that MOH will ask if these close contacts are feeling unwell, and those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be treated as suspect cases. These suspect cases will then be hospitalised in isolation wards and tested for the virus.

On the other hand, close contacts that are feeling well but deemed at risk of infection will be served a notice of quarantine by a Health Ministry officer together with a Certis security officer. These individuals will then have the choice of staying at home or going to a government quarantine facility for 14 days from their last contact with the patient.

Therefore, the rather lax directives given in the message (where the recipient can simply choose to self-isolate or get tested) seems incongruent to the stringent approach that MOH takes in contact tracing and the handling close contacts of COVID-19 cases.

Finally, if one to assume that the message were to come from MOH, the URL of the link would very likely contain the words ‘gov.sg’.

Referring to the official gov.sg WhatsApp channel which pushes out daily COVID-19 updates, we see an example of how an official link could look like:

Therefore, we conclude that the message going around isn’t just false, but irrelevant in the context of Singapore as well.

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