Observers

People all over the world have been sharing a video that they claim shows a woman killed by police in China for trying to escape quarantine for the COVID-19 virus, which has infected more than 70,000 people since it first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The propagation of this video is evidence of the rising hysteria about the virus online. However, our team took a closer look, and found out that the video itself tells an entirely different story.

The 21-second video shows a person wearing a yellow jacket and black trousers lying motionless on the ground. The person’s face is covered in blood. In the background someone is screaming, and at the very end of the video a woman runs towards the person on the ground. The video has garnered hundreds of thousands of views on social media, especially Twitter.

Social media users claimed that the person on the ground was a woman fatally shot by police when she tried to break past the blockade set up to try to contain the virus in Wuzu, a city in Hubei province.

“At Wuzu Town, Huangmei County in #Hubei , a woman was said to have [been] shot dead after she attempted to break the blockade set up to contain #coronavirus,” tweeted one user on February 4, 2020. This same story appeared in tweets in many different languages.

The video was indeed filmed in the small town of Wuzu, located about 200km to the east of Wuhan. However, there are several different clues in the video that cast doubt on the rest of the story shared by people online.

Why this video is false


Our team spoke with a Wuzu resident who wanted to remain anonymous to protect his own safety. We’ll refer to him as Zhang W. He didn’t witness the scene in the video himself but he did speak with several eyewitnesses after the fact.
 

I can confirm that this incident took place in front of Siyuan School in Wuzu on January 29, 2020. I live right by the school and a few of my friends witnessed the incident in the video. Contrary to what people are saying on Twitter, the person on the ground is a man, not a woman, and he wasn’t killed by the police, he had a motorbike accident.

Zhang W. sent us another version of the video shared online, which is a fraction of a second longer. If you pause the video, you can see that there is a motorbike or scooter lying on its side on the sidewalk a few metres from the person on the ground. Also, at 0’04, you can see that the concrete barrier around a nearby tree has been damaged.

These screengrabs show the moments in the video that provide clues that a motorbike or scooter accident occurred.


These two clues in the video support the theory that the video shows the victim of a road accident.

Zhang W. also provided the FRANCE 24 Observers team with several screengrabs of discussions held in a group of Wuzu residents on the app WeChat. He also sent our team another video, filmed from a moving car, that shows the same scene.

The image on the left is a screengrab of a conversation between Wuzu residents in a WeChat group. The image at the centre is a video shared in this group that shows the same scene but filmed from a different point of view. On the right is a screengrab from the original video that has been circulating online.


“Two teenagers were going too fast on their scooters,” explains one of the messages posted in the group alongside the video. “They hit the edge of the road and lost control. The driver died.”

Zhang W. also sent our team a press release from the director of the Wuzu police station, Commissioner Zhao.

Screengrab of the statement from the Wuzu police commissioner, which our Observer Zhang W. shared with our team via text.


"On the afternoon of January 29, a one-vehicle accident involving a motor scooter occurred in Wuzu. The driver carried out a poor manoeuvre, which resulted in the scooter going off the road and hitting a concrete border. He fell on the back of his head and, sadly, died. The driver was the only person involved. Local police, traffic police and medical personnel quickly arrived on site to manage the accident,” said the police commissioner in a statement meant to put a stop to the rumours circulating about the accident.
 

Conclusion

From our investigation, we were able to establish that this video, which does show a real accident, was taken out of context and used to feed into the alarmist rhetoric about COVID-19 that is currently circulating on social media.

Article by Liselotte Mas