Coronavirus fears being twisted by foreign disinformation: US officials

The campaign is meant to cause undue panic, National Security Council officials said

A foreign disinformation campaign is underway and it is aimed at spreading fear in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, three U.S. officials said Monday.

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The National Security Council had to warn Americans about fake texts regarding a national quarantine following a reported cyber attack.

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“There is an ongoing effort to spread disinformation and cause undue panic. There is no national quarantine for the United States. It’s important we remain vigilant in ensuring our information is coming from verified sources," a senior Trump administration official told Fox News regarding rumors of a nationwide quarantine.

On Sunday, federal officials began confronting what they said was a deliberate effort by a foreign entity to sow fears of a nationwide quarantine amid the virus outbreak. Agencies took coordinated action Sunday evening to deny that any such plans were put in place, as they tried to calm a nation already on edge by disruptions to daily life caused by the virus.

President Trump arrives to speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci, center, and Adm. Dr. Brett Giroir Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The three U.S. officials did not name the foreign entity they believe to be responsible. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

“Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE,” the National Security Council posted to Twitter on Sunday night. “There is no national lockdown.”

The security council encouraged Americans to follow official government guidance.

States and municipalities have banned large public gatherings, closed schools, bars and restaurants, and they have advised people to exercise so-called social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on Sunday recommending against indoor gatherings larger than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

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The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday that Americans should aim to severely curtail leaving their homes, but did not indicate the government would order such a move. He was specifically questioned on whether he'd like to see a “national lockdown.”

"I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing," said Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of coronavirus. He heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.