A viral video claims to show scenes of Sungai Buloh Hospital overcrowded with COVID-19 patients.
This is false. The video actually shows the daily discharge process at MAEPS, the COVID-19 Quarantine and Low Risk Treatment Centre in Malaysia.
A video has been circulating widely on social media and in private messenger groups, claiming to show a crowded medical facility brimming with COVID-19 patients not observing safe distancing.
Faqcheck Lab analysed that a spike in Malaysia’s COVID-19 cases corresponded with the video going viral online with misleading captions. This escalated public anxiety, and even led to the content being further falsified as it spread to Indonesia.
How did it happen?
The same video has been shared widely accompanied by different text describing the situation. Some of these messages were misleading, vague or simply untrue.
One such message, purportedly from a doctor, claimed that the video shows a line of new patients entering an overburdened Sungai Buloh Hospital in Selangor. The message added that Selangor’s government hospitals are at capacity and its ICUs full of intubated Covid-19-positive patients.
The authorities and mainstream news organisations moved quickly to debunk the falsehood in their reports.
The video actually shows a line of patients being discharged from the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS), which has been turned into a COVID-19 Quarantine and Low Risk Treatment Centre.
The National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) confirmed this in their response. Its spokesperson Nur Daliza Dohat said: “What is shown in the video is a normal situation during the daily discharge process.”
Other false messages forwarded together with the video caused confusion, even in Indonesia, prompting local fact-checkers to debunk untruths claiming the incident took place in Jakarta.
Faqcheck Lab examines the timeline of events to analyse the likely misinformation trajectory, and assess how the video became linked to misleading messages.
5th Jan 2021
The message about Sungai Buloh Hospital under strain from COVID-19 patients had been circulating for at least two days without going viral. An earlier iteration of it posted on the Ara Impian Community Facebook page indicated that it was a “copy & paste” post. This suggests the original message surfaced even earlier.
At the time, the message was posted with other images but not the MAEPS video that later went viral.
7th Jan 2021
On this day, Malaysia recorded 3,027 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily figure reported at the time. It was a jump of more than 400 cases from the previous daily high of 2,593.
Malaysia’s Health Ministry also reported an increase in the national infectivity rate and warned of an exponential rise in new cases if the trend continued.
These events raised public anxiety over the pandemic, especially at a time when there was increasing talk about the possibility of another movement control order (MCO).
7-8th Jan 2021
The MAEPS video went viral during this window, with many posts and comments reflecting public concern over safe distancing, healthcare strain and government’s crisis management.
The earliest version of the video we found online was on the popular Facebook group We Are Malaysianson 7 Jan 2021. It has more than 500,000 followers.
The video then went viral on Twitter as well, with one post clocking more than 300,000 views.
While some of the posters mentioned MAEPS as the location, the captions focused on the crowded conditions and lacked important context - that the video actually showed patients being discharged from a low risk quarantine centre. This allowed the video to be subject to interpretations.
During this window, the video became widely forwarded with unrelated messages, including those claiming to describe the situation in Sungai Buloh Hospital.
From 8th Jan 2021
The misinformation spiralled and crossed borders. The video started circulating on social media and WhatsApp in Indonesia, with false claims that it showed scenes in Wisma Atlet, a quarantine centre in Jakarta. This was swiftly debunked by Indonesian fact-checkers [Cekfakta , Turnbackhoax.id and AFP Fact Check]
9th Jan 2021
With public anxiety over the video reaching its height in Malaysia, NADMA clarified the content, This was widely reported in the local media.
On the point of congestion at MAEPS, NADMA spokesperson Nur Daliza Dohat told Bernama that the viral video did not show the full picture.
“As of midnight Jan 8, there were 2,863 patients, meaning there were still 5,137 beds empty.”
She added that although there was no partition in the hall, physical distancing of the COVID-19 patients was carried out according to the prescribed standard operating procedures.
From 13 Jan 2021
Social media activity over the viral video reduced after the fact-checks, with Facebook labelling it as “false information” and reducing its reach.
But Malaysians continued to receive the video with a misleading caption over WhatsApp, even though it was labelled “forwarded many times” to limit widespread sharing.
Making sense of misinformation
Online misinformation often goes viral when embedded with nuggets of truth on issues people care about. Though the claims about the quarantine centre may have been false, the situation with the overburdened healthcare system is not.
Data collected up to 18 Jan 2021 by Codeblue shows that ICU beds in Selangor are indeed almost at maximum capacity.
The director-general of health, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, has also stressed [Straits Times, TRP, Edgeprop] that the Malaysian healthcare system is at “breaking point” with the high number of daily COVID-19 cases.
Anxiety over the situation triggered people to quickly share the message about an overburdened Sungai Buloh Hospital without verifying the content.
Making sense of this misinformation is important, as the confusion may be counterproductive to government efforts to control the pandemic.
It said: “There’s no problem in having multiple people isolate together. But, ideally, people should quarantine separately.”
It’s also important to distinguish between isolation and quarantine: isolation is for people who are sick. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who may have been exposed to the virus.
Xiamen University Malaysia: Siew Tong En, Liu Zihan, Sean Elijah Tan, & Dr Jeyasushma A/P Veeriah
University of Nottingham Malaysia: Nur Ain Nabila, Muhammad Farhan Shahmi Abdullah, Joshua Ng, Noor Alia Abrar Bestari Abrar, Tan Zhi Ying, & Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia: Nurul Ain, Seri Haidah, Nur Raihan, Yazlin Yahaya, & Dr Sabariah Mohamed Salleh