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Rumour, falsehoods and dangerous misinformation are being challenged to help in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

The UK Government has now tasked its Rapid Response Unit with rebutting false information about the virus, its symptoms and wrongly reported cures.

It has acted to try and shut down claims like holding your breath to see if you cough is a test for coronavirus and claims that gargling water is a cure.

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It is also investigating criminals using the pandemic to run phishing scams to con people out of cash.

The Cabinet Office said there are around 70 incidents per week where false and misleading claims are made which are being identified and resolved.

It is relaunching its Don’t Feed the Beast public information campaign to give people the knowledge to question what they read online and to help ensure only trusted sources are used to get useful information on the virus and the efforts to stop the spread.

Penny Mordaunt, Paymaster General, said: "Holding your breath for ten seconds is not a test for coronavirus and gargling water for 15 seconds is not a cure. 

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"This is the kind of false advice we have seen coming from sources claiming to be medical experts.

“That is why government communicators are working in tandem with health bodies to promote official medical advice, rebut false narratives and clamp down on criminals seeking to exploit public concern during this pandemic.”

It has issued its SHARE advice, outlining five steps to follow to identify whether information may be misleading:

  • Source - make sure information comes from a trusted source
  • Headline - always read beyond the headline
  • Analyse - check the facts
  • Retouched - does the image or video look as though it has been doctored?
  • Error - look out for bad grammar and spelling
  • Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We need people to follow expert medical advice and stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. It is vital that this message hits home and that misinformation and disinformation which undermines it is knocked down quickly.

“We’re working with social media companies, and I’ll be pressing them this week for further action to stem the spread of falsehoods and rumours which could cost lives.”

When false narratives are identified, the Rapid Response Unit coordinates with other government departments across Whitehall to deploy the appropriate response.

Mr Dowden said this can include a direct rebuttal on social media, working with platforms to remove harmful content and ensuring public health campaigns are promoted through reliable sources.