United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said that the world is facing a “dangerous epidemic” of misinformation on Covid-19 and announced a new initiative to counter falsehoods about the pandemic with science and facts.

In a video message, Guterres expressed concern over the false information being spread about the coronavirus pandemic and said that it will put more lives at risk. “As the world fights the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, the most challenging crisis we have faced since the World War II, we are also seeing another epidemic – a dangerous epidemic of misinformation,” he said. “Falsehoods are filling the airwaves, wild conspiracy theories are infecting the internet. Hatred is going viral, stigmatising and vilifying people and groups. The world must unite against this disease too.”

Guterres warned against a global “misinfo-demic” that is spreading harmful health advice like “snake-oil solutions” and urged social media platforms to step up efforts to check the distribution of false information. “I salute the journalists and others fact-checking the mountain of misleading stories and social media posts,” he said. “Social media companies must do more to root out hate and harmful assertions about Covid-19”.

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Guterres’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the spread of disinformation on Covid-19 could be detrimental to the efforts to combat the disease. Dujarric said that as part of a new campaign, the United Nations will be in touch with various social media companies to try and root out false information on the pandemic.

“We will push out scientifically based information, information that will help us as a global community fight the virus,” he said, according to AP. “Social media companies, news organisations are making those decisions all the time, but I think it is important that we all do what we can to fight the spread of dangerous misinformation on fighting the virus.”

Covid-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed more than 1,26,000 people across the world and infected over 19 lakh people. United States is the worst-hit country in the world with 24,429 deaths and more than 6 lakh cases. Italy and Spain have reported 21,067 and 18,255 deaths, respectively.

India has so far reported 11,439 coronavirus cases and 377 deaths. The nationwide lockdown to control the rapidly-spreading Covid-19 has been extended till May 3.