US of­fi­cials: For­eign dis­in­for­ma­tion is stoking virus fears

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Zeke Miller and Colleen Long

WASH­ING­TON >> The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is al­leg­ing that a for­eign dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is un­der­way aimed at spread­ing fear in the coun­try amid the coron­avirus pan­demic, three U.S. of­fi­cials said Mon­day.

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.

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 sen­si­tive mat­ters.

It was un­clear if the dis­in­for­ma­tion ef­fort was re­lated to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials’ com­plaints in re­cent days that China was spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about the U.S.

Last week, the Pentagon ac­cused the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment of pro­mul­gat­ing “false & ab­surd con­spir­acy the­o­ries about the ori­gin of COVID-19 blam­ing U.S. ser­vice mem­bers.”

At a press brief­ing Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said it could be that there are some for­eign en­ti­ties “play­ing games.” But he said it didn’t mat­ter be­cause he was not order­ing a na­tion­wide lock­down. “At this point, not na­tion­wide,” he said. He said there were no do­mes­tic travel re­stric­tions, but “we’re talk­ing about it every day.”

A day ear­lier, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil tweeted that “Text mes­sage ru­mors of a na­tional #quar­an­tine are FAKE. There is no na­tional lock­down.” The NSC en­cour­aged Amer­i­cans to fol­low of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment guid­ance.

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

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

The na­tion’s top in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert, Dr. An­thony Fauci, said Sun­day that Amer­i­cans should aim to se­verely cur­tail leav­ing their homes, but he 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.

Also on Mon­day, na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said there had been a “cy­ber in­ci­dent” in­volv­ing the com­puter net­works of the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, but the net­works were op­er­at­ing nor­mally.

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