A YouTube star is facing prison time after lying about coronavirus for a video - here's what happened

Friday, 6th March 2020, 5:10 pm
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 5:12 pm

Whether its pretending to leak a biohazard on a New York subway, or faking Covid-19 symptoms on a busy flight, some people have been taking advantage of the current viral outbreak to boost their social media following.

Most recently, 24 year old Francesco Belardi posted a video to his 390,000 YouTube subscribers. In it, he claims to attempt to sneak into a quarantined Italian town. Belardi also shared the video with his 80,000 Instagram followers.

An infodemic

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Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, social media has been at the forefront of what the World Health Organisation called an "infodemic", after users were repeatedly spreading misinformation about the deadly disease.

Belardi didn't think his followers would check up on the facts, though, and shortly after the video was published, it was exposed that he was not wandering Lodigiano, but a smaller town called Guardamiglio.

Lodigiana is within the "red zone" - an area inside Italy that is currently under strict quarantine. Belardi claimed that he and his three friends managed to sneak past checkpoints, before exploring the contaminated area.

Fined for lying

Italian newspaper, La Repubblica discovered that Belardi was indeed wandering around Guardamiglio, outside of the red zone.

Belardi then made the claim that "the rumours circulating are false: you can enter the red zone in complete tranquillity, but then you cannot leave it for fourteen days”. But his claims are false, and because of this several complaints were made against the Italian YouTube star.

His phone was confiscated by police and now the social media star potentially faces three months in prison for “publication or diffusion of false, exaggerated or tendentious news, likely to upset public order” – article 656 of the penal code. As well as prison time, he also faces a fine of up to €309.

Belardi has now made his Instagram account private after facing backlash from his actions.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS