|A medical worker receives the first shot of AstraZeneca's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine at Seoul National University Hospital, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
Police have caught 279 people for spreading false information on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines both online and offline. The crackdown follows a government pledge to deal sternly with fake news that could undermine the country's antivirus efforts.
The National Police Agency (NPA) said Thursday that among those caught was a person who was nabbed recently by the Incheon Metropolitan Police Agency for spreading claims online that "COVID-19 vaccines will alter your genes."
A woman in her 60s was also caught by Incheon police for posting dozens of flyers on information boards at bus stops and utility poles around the city. The flyers carried false information that "chips in vaccines will take your life away."
Police have stepped up their crackdowns on disinformation on the pandemic and vaccines as the country began COVID-19 inoculations on Feb. 26. The NPA said its crackdown is aimed at preventing any confusion and chaos as public jitters are mounting over the safety of vaccines that were developed only recently.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also voiced concerns over a wave of disinformation about vaccine safety, pledging to actively counter any wrong information.
The NPA noted that investigations are currently underway on eight more cases involving the online spread of disinformation, including claims that "COVID-19 vaccines were made using aborted fetuses" and that vaccines will cause Alzheimer's disease.
Those spreading false information can face up to seven years in prison or up to 50 million won ($44,000) in fines for violating the Information and Communications Network Act, according to the NPA.
"We ask people to actively report to police if they find any attempts to spread false information related to vaccines," an NPA official said. "We are also bracing for additional crimes related to vaccinations such as voice phishing scams asking for money for vaccines."