April 1 is traditionally a time for pranks, but other countries around the world, including India, have issued similar pleas amid concerns about the spread of false information – with some even going so far as to threaten culprits with prison. Meanwhile, Tech giant Google, famous for its annual spoofs, has cancelled the tradition because of the pandemic which has killed about 40,000 people worldwide. Under the heading “Corona is no joke”, Germany’s health ministry urged the public to invent stories related to the virus.
In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year
Germany’s health ministry
It explained: “In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year.
“This minimises the risk that the fight against the virus is made more difficult by incorrect information on the subject.”
Out of a worldwide total of more than 860,000 cases of COVID-19, Germany currently has 71,808, with 775 deaths.
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Elsewhere, Thailand said jokes about the virus could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The Government’s official Twitter account warned: “It’s against the law to fake having COVID-19 this April Fools’ Day.”
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook to tell people not to prank about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumours or false information could likewise spend time behind bars, plus a fine of up to £80,000 ($99,200).
In India, Maharashtra state’s cybersecurity unit pledged to take legal action against anyone spreading fake news on April Fools’ Day.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted: “The state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona.”
He had instructed the authorities to “act swiftly & strongly (against) such miscreants”, Mr Deshmukh added.
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In the UK, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told Express.co.uk there were no plans to follow Germany’s example and issue a similar Twitter directive.
April Fool’s Day traditions are widespread throughout the world. In one famous prank in 1957, BBC’s Panorama ran a feature about Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti and was subsequently deluged with inquiries about where to buy a spaghetti plant from people taken in by the joke.
In Odesa in Ukraine, April Fool’s Day is an official holiday.
With people relying on the internet and media for vital information about coronavirus, there are fears that jokes could fan the spread of misinformation.
From drinking cow urine to sleeping by chopped onions, myths about how people can catch and cure COVID-19 are already widely circulating.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as an “infodemic”, which could increase the spread of the virus among vulnerable people.
Google said it had suspended its annual April Fools’ tradition “out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.
In an internal email to staff, it said: “Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one.”
In previous years Google has advertised fictitious jobs at a new research centre on the moon, turned Google Maps into a game of Where’s Waldo – also known as Where’s Wally – and claimed its search technology uses trained pigeons to rank pages.
Taylor Herring, a British PR agency whose clients include TV channels and international brands, has also advised all companies to ditch the jokes this year.
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